Martin St. Louis has been just one of the stars for the Lightning this year to meet high expectations.
The stars of the Tampa Bay Lightning have earned high marks this season as we prepare for the Olympic break. The Lightning haven’t been at full strength for a while, but that hasn’t stopped their stars from putting the team in solid position.
Tampa Bay has endured a roller coaster season with the loss of Steven Stamkos, the near return of Stamkos, multiple injuries to Ben Bishop and the dependence on a group of talented young players. Despite the challenges of the season, the Lightning have managed to keep pace in the Atlantic Division.
With two games remaining before the Olympic break and the stretch run, here are the grades for the Lightning’s stars so far.
The only "C" to describe Martin St. Louis's game is on his jersey.
Martin St. Louis isn’t on the scoring pace he was on last year, but the Lightning captain is still the team’s leading scorer with 54 points. Age is definitely not a factor, but the absence of sniper Steven Stamkos could be.
St. Louis leads the team in power-play goals (eight) and is tied for the team lead in game-winners (four). He has 25 goals in 56 games, which could lead to a career year.
He has hit the 30-goal mark six times in his career and should have no problem adding a seventh. While his career high of 43 might be a bit out of reach, this could be one of the highest goal-scoring seasons in his storied career.
St. Louis has been everything the Lightning could have wanted out of a captain.
Valtteri Filppula has earned every bit of the first year of his contract.
It’s hard to find something negative to say about the game of Valtteri Filppula. He was a bit of a gamble coming into the season after a down year in Detroit. He had big shoes to fill on the second line, and he has done that and more.
Filppula is second on the team in points with 41 and is shooting at an impressive 19.4 percent clip. He has solidified the faceoff circle by winning 51.5 percent of his draws and plays a solid two-way game that has helped boost the play of young players like Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn.
Filppula has been a great addition to the team and has given the Bolts some versatility on the second line.
Matt Carle has made impressive improvements this season.
If someone would have predicted that there would be Lightning defenseman rated higher than a plus-10 this season, many would have laughed and walked away. Matt Carle might have even chuckled a bit, but he is an impressive plus-16 through 56 games.
To put that feat into perspective, Benoit Pouliot led the team in plus/minus at plus-eight last season. Carle finished a pedestrian plus-one.
This year, the Bolts have been better in the defensive end—and gotten some outstanding goaltending—which has provided some great numbers for the Lightning blueliners. His 25 points this year ties him for 30th among NHL defensemen.
Ben Bishop has stood tall for the Bolts and been the most valuable player so far.
Ben Bishop has been nothing short of Vezina Trophy caliber. He has single-handedly kept the Lightning in games and even stolen victories at times.
When it comes to eye-popping numbers, Bishop has a handful of them. The steady goaltender has a 1.98 goals-against average—one of three goalies in the NHL with a GAA below two. He is also tied for second in save percentage at .933.
But even more important than his individual statistics is his record. Bishop is 27-8-4 this year. The Lightning are 32-19-5. He has been the hands-down MVP of this squad this season.
Quality play down the stretch could put Victor Hedman into the Norris Trophy conversation.
Olympic snub Victor Hedman apparently hasn’t done enough to garner international attention, but Lightning fans will be perfectly OK with him maintaining his current level of play. Hedman is tied for seventh in the NHL in points by a defenseman with 36. He is the third-highest scorer for the Bolts—behind Valtteri Filppula and Martin St. Louis.
He is a plus-seven rating in 49 games and sits just four goals behind league-leading Shea Weber despite playing in five less games. Hedman has been a stalwart for the Lightning’s defense by playing over 22 minutes per game.
Sweden may not want him for their Olympic team, but the Bolts will take him every day of the week.
A healthy Steven Stamkos means a dangerous Lightning team.
Steven Stamkos will not be playing for Team Canada in the Olympics. While that is a blow to not only the Canadians, it is also a blow to the international hockey community. Still, the hockey world should support and defend Stamkos for this decision. He did everything humanly possible to get back in time to represent his country, but made a decision based on longevity, and that should be admired.
For Lightning fans, it means they probably won’t see Stammer on the ice before the Olympic break. He will be re-evaluated toward the end of the Olympics to see if he is ready for game action. If he is, the Lightning will be close to full strength for the final weeks of the NHL campaign.
Before the Nov. 11 injury, Stamkos had 23 points in 17 games including 14 goals. His shot will be welcomed back with a resounding cheer from the entire hockey community.