Two and a half months into the 2018-19 season, the Tampa Bay Lightning look eerily similar to last season’s team, standings-wise. It took them one more game, but they eclipsed the 50-point mark following Thursday night’s win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
With eight straight wins, they are one shy of the franchise record of nine victories in a row. They also hold the second-longest win streak in the entire NHL. Pretty impressive stuff to say the least.
How the Lightning managed to put together a brilliant stretch, especially in the face of adversity, speaks to their depth as an organization and the leadership core this team possesses.
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Put simply, everyone is contributing. Backup goaltender Louis Domingue filled in admirably, going 11-2 in the absence of Andrei Vasilevskiy. Erik Cernak has more than held his own filling in for veteran Anton Stralman, while third/fourth liners Mathieu Joseph, Cedric Paquette and others have chipped in with some big goals of their own.
In saying that, there are a few players who stood out above their peers this past week. These guys keyed big wins, two of which came over other top teams in the league. This week’s edition of Lightning Weekly Flash will spotlight the hot week by captain Steven Stamkos, the brilliant return from injury for Vasilevskiy and the game-changing play by rookie Anthony Cirelli.
Stamkos Records 700th Point
After an unusually slow start to this season, Stamkos looks to be trending in the right direction. Last Saturday, he had two goals and two assists to notch his 13th four-point game, the most in Lightning history (from ‘Steven Stamkos Leads Lightning to win over Avalanche’, Tampa Bay Times-12/8/18).
He followed that up by becoming the first player from the 2008 NHL Draft to reach 700 career points during the second period of Monday’s game (from ‘Steven Stamkos Has 3 Goals and Milestone as Lightning Top Rangers’, New York Times-12/10/18). It happened in spectacular fashion too, as the sniper shot the puck while falling to the ice, tying the score at two apiece.
The night was then capped off by Stamkos netting his first hat trick since October of 2014. His ninth hatty established a new franchise record as well, breaking the old record of eight held by two sure-fire Hall of Famers in Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier.
It’s worth noting that Stamkos’ 700th point came in his 696th game, quite an accomplishment considering all the injury struggles faced over the years. He missed four months in 2013-14 with a broken tibia and all but 17 games two seasons ago after undergoing surgery to repair a meniscus tear. That doesn’t include the blood clot that sidelined him for all but one game during the 2015-16 playoffs.
Vasilevskiy Spectacular in Return From Injury
Four weeks after suffering a fractured foot in practice, starting netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy returned to game action against the Maple Leafs on Thursday night.
He starred, making one save after another after another in a Lightning win that was one-sided in their opponent’s favor. With 48 saves, the reigning Vezina Trophy finalist set a career-high and tied Ben Bishop’s franchise record from January of 2014.
There were more five-bell saves than one could imagine. One, in particular, was spectacular enough that it made the NHL’s top plays from last week and could be a candidate for the save of the year.
What’s crazy is not the fact that he played well, but that he did it with only one practice after not seeing the ice or facing live shots for at least three weeks. The questions about conditioning from both fans and the media weren’t really warranted, something the young netminder proved in this one-game masterpiece.
Going forward, Vasilevskiy should be fresh enough to play his best hockey down the stretch and into the playoffs if the Lightning are smart about monitoring his workload. They have no reason not to, as Domingue’s proven himself to be capable of winning games. He had six victories in the team’s eight-game win streak, and his 14 wins overall are tied for fourth in the league.
Cirelli Impacting Games for Lightning
With all the attention surrounding Stamkos’ sudden hot streak and the return of Vasilevskiy, the smart play by Cirelli has flown under the radar. Not anymore though. The rookie has grown into his own on the ice, evidenced by his recent hot streak.
Playing on the third line with veteran Alex Killorn and either Joseph or J.T. Miller, Cirelli has made an impact. That was proven in two of the Lightning’s three wins last week.
Against Toronto, he poked the puck loose and then raced to grab it shorthanded. He made a move at the blue line to lose the defender before steaming in all alone on Frederick Andersen. That goal tied the game and shifted momentum.
Last Monday against the New York Rangers, Cirelli had two goals to break open a 2-2 deadlock. He took the shots that presented themselves, evidenced by the fact he scored four of his nine goals this season last week.
He was not careless with the puck either, trying to make something out of nothing. The Leafs game was proof of that, as the rookie made sure to clear the puck completely out of the Lightning’s zone before attempting to make something happen.
That’s one play that sticks out, but Cirelli’s been good for the Lightning all season long. His line keyed the shootout win on Opening Night, and he’s played well in every situation. This is shown through his plus-12 rating, second-highest on the team, and the fact he’s tied for the league lead with three shorthanded tallies.
What’s Up Next:
The Lightning hit the road for a four-game tour of Western Canada. They begin with the always-tough Winnipeg Jets on Sunday night. They will then head west to clash with Brock Boeser, Elias Petterson and the young but confident Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night. They’ll then face the red-hot Calgary Flames Thursday night before wrapping the trip up with a date next Saturday against Connor McDavid and the high-flying Edmonton Oilers.