After 31 games, the Tampa Bay Lightning find themselves hot on the heels of the Southeast division leading Washington Capitals, only two points down with two games in hand.
Tampa Bay has weathered a schedule of 19 road games, that included a stretch of nine-of-11 on the road and two West Coast road trips.
The Lightning have also had to overcome injuries to key contributors Vincent Lecavalier, Simon Gagne and Steve Downie.
While Tampa Bay's 17-10-4 record is a testament to the determination of their young hockey club, the Lightning are still looking for the consistency that you expect from a Cup contender.
Whether it's a product of the schedule, injuries or a combination, Tampa Bay is the only team among the Eastern Conference top eight that has given up more goals (107) than they've scored (96).
Last night, Tampa Bay surrendered a league worst seventh shorthanded goal and they find themselves near the bottom in goals against.
Goaltenders Dan Ellis and Mike Smith each have shown flashes of brilliance and maddening inconsistency. Rumors had GM Steve Yzerman talking with former San Jose Shark All-Star goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who was recently released from his contract with KHL St. Petersburg (Russia) to attend to a family matter, although at this point it looks like those discussions are just exploratory.
Tampa Bay's been a bit of a streaky club, with two streaks where they've won seven out of 10 games and stretches where they lost six of seven. They're back on a winning streak after suffering through another cold stretch where they lost five of seven, including an 6-0 drubbing against the Capitals and an 8-1 beat down by Boston.
Finding a handle on the Lightning this season has been difficult. This is a club that has won games 8-7 (at Philadelphia on Nov. 18) and 2-1 in a shootout (as they did last night against the Thrashers).
Tampa Bay is getting some great point production from both Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. They've also gotten contributions from some unlikely sources like Ted Purcell, Sean Bergenheim and Dominic Moore.
Head coach Guy Boucher's uniquely aggressive 1-3-1 system leaves his defenseman and goaltenders vulnerable to odd-man rushes and breakaways. It's led to only one of the Lightning's defensemen to have a positive plus/minus ratio (Victor Hedman at plus-one).
If the Lightning can solve the defensive puzzle, Tampa Bay could have a major say, not only in the SE division, but the Eastern Conference.