Anchored by their goaltender, the Tampa Bay Lightning are in a good spot. But some of their biggest questions are still lingering around.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have been a bit of a surprise in the Eastern Conference this season, and their playoff position has been surrounded by a few storylines that don’t go away. Through 34 games, the Lightning sit fourth in the Eastern Conference and are an impressive 12-3-1 on home ice.
Tampa Bay will continue to battle without superstar Steven Stamkos and a laundry list of injured players. For the Lightning’s game against Detroit on Dec. 15, they had six players on the injury report. To be fair, they aren’t the only team facing injury concerns. Teams like Detroit, Pittsburgh and St. Louis are also feeling the bite of the injury bug.
As we approach the midway point of the season, there are a few storylines for Lightning fans that just don’t seem to be going away. Some have even carried over from the preseason.
Ben Bishop has been nothing short of huge for the Lightning this season.
Let’s be honest, Ben Bishop’s play this season has been one of the best surprise stories in the league. He is on Team USA’s goaltender list thanks to a stellar start to the 2013-14 season. Bishop has carried the Lightning this year, as evident by the Bolts even having a chance to pick up a point against the Islanders on Dec. 17.
Nearly every broadcast, the Lightning announcers discuss how pivotal Bishop has been for the Lightning this season. He is still the topic of conversation despite remaining consistent in net.
Skeptics could say that he won’t maintain this pace, and the Bolts would be asking the same question from the offseason: Who is going to be our goaltender?
No matter how great Bishop plays this year; this storyline won’t go away any time soon.
Tyler Johnson is one of the league's best rookies in 2013-14.
Bishop isn’t the only new face to the Lightning. The Bolts are using a growing group of young players to stay in the hunt this season.
During the offseason, it was a question of which young players would be on the roster and how big of an impact would they make. With the team in fourth place in the East, those questions have quieted down, but one extended slump should bring back the roars.
Tyler Johnson is third among NHL rookies in points with 18. Ondrej Palat is 15th with 12 points, and Richard Panik is 24th with 10.
This young group has done a nice job of staying competitive this year. The team’s young group will still be a focus for the next few years.
In case you haven't heard, there is some good hockey being played at the southern edge of the NHL map.
In October, Steven Stamkos pointed out that the Lightning are the quietest 8-3 team in the league. The only thing that has really changed in the last two months is the record.
Tampa Bay is 20-11-3 through 34 games and sits just two points behind Montreal―which has played 36 games. They have an eight-point lead on eighth-place Carolina, but few have the Lightning on their radar.
NHL.com listed the Bolts as the No. 16 team in this week’s power rankings. ESPN gave the Bolts a little more credit after a 3-0 shutout over Detroit in Joe Louis Arena by putting them 12th.
A painful image for the Lightning community will continue to be one of the biggest storylines this season.
Again, the Lightning are near the top of the Eastern Conference standings and will be without sniper Steven Stamkos for the better part of the season. It’s a fairly new question, but one that won’t go away any time soon. What would the season look like if Stamkos were healthy?
Would Tampa Bay be the No. 1 team in the East? Would he be in a goals race with Alexander Ovechkin?
There will be a lot of speculation for the Lightning this season in the wake of the injury. What if he comes back in time for the Olympics and doesn’t return to form? Did he rush back?
There are enough questions that could surround his health to make sure this storyline never disappears.
Led by Jon Cooper, are the Lightning contenders?
A combination of all the factors, the Lightning have bounced back and forth from contender to pretender and back. There are enough reasons to believe the Bolts will hit a skid and enough reasons to believe they will maintain this high level of play.
Injuries, youth, new coach and goaltending remain some of the biggest questions and storylines surrounding the Lightning. They all come down to one thing―are the Bolts contenders?
Given their play over the last two months, fans should believe that their team has its sights set on the postseason. But, Bolts fans have been there before, only to be disappointed.
With a little over four months of season left, this storyline won’t be disappearing either. If anything, it will grow as the Lightning continue to pursue a postseason berth.