Tampa Bay Lightning's 5 Biggest Questions Ahead of the Olympic Break

Eric Steitz@esteitz16Analyst IIIFebruary 3, 2014

Tampa Bay Lightning's 5 Biggest Questions Ahead of the Olympic Break

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    Heading into the Olympic break, the Lightning should be happy with their place in the standings.
    Heading into the Olympic break, the Lightning should be happy with their place in the standings.Associated Press

    The Tampa Bay Lightning's Jan. 30th game against the Ottawa Senators was a grave reminder of how quickly things can change in the NHL. That game shined some light on a few questions that still stand for the Lightning heading into the stretch run of the 2013-14 season.

    The Bolts lost to the Sens 5-3, but they also lost goaltenders Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback and top two-way center Valtteri Filppula to injury. While they are of varying degrees, Tampa Bay will now be extremely vulnerable without those key pieces.

    With the Olympic break and trade deadline coming up in the next few weeks, Tampa Bay has some questions still out there that need answering before the playoffs.

5. Is Valtteri Filppula the Most Important Forward for the Lightning?

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    Valtteri Filppula has been one of the Lightning's best forwards this season.
    Valtteri Filppula has been one of the Lightning's best forwards this season.Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    No one would question the value of Martin St. Louis or Steven Stamkos, but the two-way play of Valtteri Filppula might make him the most irreplaceable forward for the Bolts. Not to take anything away from the performance and success the Lightning have had without Stamkos, but Filppula has been a big part of that.

    Filppula has played in 31 of 32 wins for the Bolts this year. He had 33 points and was plus-18 in those games and won over 54 percent of his draws.

    Conversely, he has just seven points and is a minus-14 in the 23 losses he has been a part of this season. When Filppula plays well, the Bolts seem to play well, which might make his health one of the biggest factors for the Lightning moving forward.

     

4. Can the Bolts Hold off the Rest of the Atlantic Division?

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    The Bolts and Leafs will be in for a dogfight for second place in the Atlantic this season.
    The Bolts and Leafs will be in for a dogfight for second place in the Atlantic this season.Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Tampa Bay currently sits second in the Atlantic Division with 69 points in 55 games, four points behind division-leading Boston. The Bolts have three games remaining before the Olympic break, including games against Atlantic Division opponents Toronto and Detroit 

    Tampa Bay is 12-5-1 against divisional opponents and 5-4-1 in the last 10 games. Toronto has been on a tear with an 8-1-1 record in the last 10 to close the gap and jump a slumping Montreal team. 

    If the playoffs were to begin today, the Atlantic would hold both wild-card spots and qualify five teams. The question is who will land where. Tampa Bay has a valid shot at a division crown, but it needs to be wary of the rest of the division contenders.

3. How Will the Olympic Break Affect the Team?

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    Valtteri Filppula is one of the Bolts headed to Sochi to represent his country.
    Valtteri Filppula is one of the Bolts headed to Sochi to represent his country.Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

    This question is a concern for every team with Olympic participants. Health, fatigue and streaks are just the tip of the proverbial Olympic iceberg.

    With players like Steven Stamkos (possibly), Radko Gudas and Valtteri Filppula heading to Sochi, the Bolts have a lot of man-games heading overseas.

    The Lightning have a young group that has played extremely well this season. Having a month off for those not going to the Olympics will be a crucial time for them.

2. What’s Plan B (in Goal)?

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    What used to be a solid goaltending tandem has been anything but in 2014.
    What used to be a solid goaltending tandem has been anything but in 2014.Mike Munden/Associated Press

    Any time a player’s head is the focal point of contact, it can be a dangerous situation. When Ben Bishop went diving out of his net against the Senators and left the game with a head injury, Bolts fans everywhere saw the season flash before their eyes. 

    Backup goaltender Anders Lindback hasn’t been the goaltender advertised. While it’s unfair to judge him on his spotty appearances, Lindback hasn’t done much to warrant more playing time.

    Lindback’s hold on the No. 2 spot may be in jeopardy as well. Sidelined for the foreseeable future, the backup spot is now up for grabs.

    The bigger issue for the Bolts is the fact that they have no real No. 2. 

1. When Will Steven Stamkos Return (and How Does It Affect the Team)?

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    Stamkos is skating and taking light contact in practice, but it is still blurry as to when he will return.
    Stamkos is skating and taking light contact in practice, but it is still blurry as to when he will return.Nathan Denette/Associated Press

    The Lightning’s best goal scorer has been on a torrid pace with his rehab process. Steven Stamkos wanted to get back on the ice before the Olympics, but recent reports have painted a different picture.

    The Olympics, NHL and Lightning all want a healthy Stamkos to put the best product on the ice, but Lightning fans have to be hoping for his absence from the Olympics. Another month of rehab and practice could do some great things for Stammer—or not.

    Adding a sniper like Stamkos only boosts the Lightning’s offense. But adding Stamkos back to the lineup will create a new learning experience for the young players of the Lightning. 

    A healthy Stammer is an irreplaceable player and with the playoffs coming up, this will be the biggest question on the minds of the fans.