Seven games into the grind that is the NHL season, and the first place Tampa Bay Lightning have sent a shot across the bow of the rest of the teams in the league.
Tampa Bay is off to a 5-1-1 start, their best since the Stanley Cup championship season of 2003-04, when they began 7-1-1. They lead the league in points (technically tied with the defending champion Blackhawks at 11, but Chicago has played two more games). They're also second in scoring, second on the Power Play and 11th in the penalty kill. The Lightning's Steven Stamkos even leads the league in goals and points.
Not too shabby for a young hockey team with nine new faces on the ice, a first time GM and a coach that is in his first NHL season after a successful run in minor league hockey.
Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher preached patience to the fans of this hockey team. They were learning a new system and each other. There were bound to be confounding mistakes and tough games.
Yet the young Lightning have taken to Boucher's unique 1-3-1 forechecking system, which has provided the Bolts offensive weapons with a ton of scoring opportunities. Stamkos has adapted the fastest, turning in 14 points in 7 games. Martin St. Louis has 8 points and Steve Downie has 6.
Dominic Moore, who has never scored more than 13 goals in a season, already has four this year.
While scoring is up for Tampa Bay, they haven't exactly mastered the art of playing defense in this system. Tampa Bay is 27th in Goals Against Average.
Still, the Lightning have gotten some solid play out of Brett Clark, Victor Hedman, and Pavel Kubina. Hedman continues to make a few boneheaded plays here and there, but he has become a factor on offense, blasting a powerful slapshot from the point and joining the rush with regularity, leading to his 5 assists.
Tampa Bay attacks the puck with ferocity, having at least two or three forecheckers converge on the puck carrier with every rush. When they gain possession, they speed down the ice with usually a trailer nearby in case their puck carrier gets into trouble.
The style puts tremendous pressure on the Lightning's opponents to make the perfect pass and see the open man without giving up the odd man rush to one of the Lightning's deadly snipers.
If Tampa Bay can maintain their torrid pace over the course of 82 games, there could be a new beast in the East.