Despite the final score of the December 9 game versus the Washington Capitals, the 5-3 loss will be remembered for a long time by Tampa Bay Lightning fans and the hockey world. When capital Steven Stamkos scored the fourth goal of the game, it not only tied up the game, it also came as a milestone: the 250th of his young career.
#Lightning Steven Stamkos has 250 goals since the start of 2008-09. That is the second-most in the NHL in that time (Ovechkin 273).
— Sportsnet Ticker (@SportsnetTicker) December 10, 2014
— Erik Erlendsson (@erlendssonTBO) December 10, 2014
In a league a few years away from celebrating its centennial, that is quite an achievement.
Stamkos leads his team in goals at 17, six more than his closest teammate and tied for third across the entire NHL with emerging St Louis superstar Vladimir Tarasenko. But he has been dishing the puck as much as finding the twine with 16 assists for a total of 33 points in 29 games, good for fourth place in the NHL. In terms of returning to his usual form, Stamkos is only seven points away (in 29 games played) from the same points total he achieved in an injury-shortened season (37 games played).
Fortunately for the Lightning, however, all of their success cannot be pegged on the success of one team member.
Take the winger behind Stamkos in goals (11) and points (23): Ryan Callahan. While Callahan was viewed as a gritty, heart-and-soul guy while captaining the New York Rangers, he is coming alive as a legit scoring threat with the Bolts. After putting up five points in only two games last month, he was recognized as one of the NHL’s Stars of the Week on the week of December 1. For the first time in his NHL career, Callahan has not gone more than two games this season without scoring a point.
Surprisingly, there is no such thing as a sophomore slump on a Lightning team loaded with young talent. Three of the team’s second-year players (with 125 games played or less) round out the top six point-producers on the team, including Tyler Johnson (29 points), Nikita Kucherov (23 points), and Onrej Palat (19 points).
Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman have been a revelation as a defensive pairing, as well. Tampa Bay has been scoring 59.4% of their goals while the pairing has been on the ice. The two are also leading Lightning defensemen in Corsi For percentages at 61.0 (Hedman) and 57.8 (Stralman).
Then there is the man in the crease. The Lightning have also been fortunate to have solid, if not Vezina-caliber, goaltending in their starter Ben Bishop, whose 16 wins currently out-paces 2014 Vezina Trophy winner Tuuka Rask (12) and Finalist Semyon Varlamov (4). His 2.31 GAA, ninth among goalies with at least ten starts this season, also ranks above Rask’s 2.56 GAA and Verlamov’s 3.22.
While the Lightning lost their hold on the number one spot in the Atlantic Division from a surging Red Wings team, it is an almost forgone conclusion that the Lightning will remain one of the dominate teams in the East, if not the whole NHL, for years to come.