When you have teams like the Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres all playing well this season, it’s easy to forget that there is one team that is outplaying them all by a mile.
That one team is the Tampa Bay Lightning. Going into their game against the New York Rangers on December 10, the Lightning are first in the NHL with a 23-7-1 record. If you’ve been following the Lightning the last few seasons, this should come as no surprise to you.
With that said, what is surprising is that they are atop the league despite not having their starting goaltender, Andre Vasilevskiy, who has been sidelined with a fractured foot for the last few weeks. Since backup netminder Louis Domingue has taken over, the team has stepped up in several ways.
For starters, this team’s offense has been superb. As of this writing, the Bolts are first in the league in goals scored with 122 in 31 games, which means they are averaging close to four goals per game.
The team’s offense is led by Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov, who has been the team’s best player over the last two seasons, currently leads the team with 44 points (12 goals and 32 assists) and has easily been the team’s most consistent player this season.
Kucherov is followed by the likes of Brayden Point (39 points), Steven Stamkos (30 points), Yanni Gourde (24 points), Tyler Johnson (22 points), and J.T. Miller (21 points). If you’re counting at home, that’s six Lightning forwards that have at least 20 points.
Speaking of offense, the team’s power play has been dynamite this season. The team is currently second in the league with the man advantage as they have converted 29 percent of their power plays, thanks to guys like Point (nine power play goals), Kucherov (five power play goals), Stamkos (four power play goals), and Gourde (four power play goals) contributing on a regular basis.
Defensively, this team has really tightened up their game, which makes sense considering that they have been forced to play Domingue due to Vasilevskiy’s injury. As of this writing, the Bolts are 13th in the league with 88 goals allowed in 31 games.
Without Vasilevskiy between the pipes, guys like Ryan McDonagh, Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Mikhail Sergachev, Braydon Coburn, and Dan Girardi have all stepped up in a big way. These guys are eating up minutes, being really smart with the puck, playing in all situations, and even contributing offense.
Speaking of cutting down the goals against, Domingue really has not been that bad. He is currently 13-4 with a 2.95 goals against average and a .906 save percentage.
Now, those numbers may not look great. With that said, he has never been thrusted into this kind of position before and thus far, the 26-year-old has done his job and gotten this team wins.
Even after taking all of this into account, things are actually going to get even better for this hockey club. Vasilevskiy was on the ice for his team’s optional skate on December 8. He will still be out for a few more weeks, but Bolts’ fans have to like that he is getting closer and closer to returning.
If the team continues to play this way and Vasilevskiy picks up where he left off when he returns from injury, this team will once again be a Cup contender at the most important time of the year.