The Tampa Bay Lightning may be in third place overall in the NHL standings, but that doesn’t nearly tell us the entire story of their 2019-20 season. The Bolts started off the campaign slow and went into the coronavirus pandemic break 3-6-1 in their last 10 games. They went into another season with Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy as clear-cut Stanley Cup contenders. Right now, you’d probably say they still are contenders with the stacked roster they put out there. Still, there seems to be something missing for the Bolts. Had it not been for an insane stretch of play from December 23 to February 17, would we even be talking about the Lightning in the playoffs? Let’s not get that crazy, but it’s a possibility. Let’s take a look at where Tampa Bay stands during the hiatus.
Where do the Tampa Bay Lightning stand during the break?
Points: 92 (preseason over/under: 112.5)
Place: 2nd in Atlantic (No. 2 overall seed in conference)
Stanley Cup odds (March 10): +750
The Lightning appear to be the mot enigmatic team in the NHL right now. They still have practically the same core that was favored to win it all in season’s past and yet, they aren’t playing up to their potential. Many have cited coach Jon Cooper for the Bolts downfalls — whether in the regular season or playoffs. Perhaps his system is getting stale and the players aren’t responding as a result. We could also look to some injuries.
Stamkos, the Bolts Captain, had been out since late February due to a core muscle injury. He had surgery in the beginning of March and should be good to go once the League decides to resume play. With 66 points in 57 games, Stamkos was on a solid pace to be one of the leading scorers in the NHL along with Kucherov. With Stamkos and D Ryan McDonagh 100% for the Lightning, they’ll be positioned well to make said playoff run. The question is: Can they actually string it all together?
The NHL is generally wide open once we get to the postseason, so I’d never rule out the Lightning as Cup contenders. They can roll four lines, they have a solid blue line that can move the puck. Tampa Bay has the top offense in the NHL and is strong on special teams, though the PK leaves a bit to be desired. Really, the big issue has been goaltending. Vasilevskiy has 35 wins, which leads the League. He has played in 52 of 70 games this season, with backup Curtis McElhinney appearing in 18 contests. McElhinney has been below average as a backup and Vasi hasn’t looked anything like a Vezina contender. He has a 2.56 GAA and .917 SV% with just three shutouts in 2019-20.
My synopsis is simple. The Lightning have all the ingredients to win the Stanley Cup this season. If they can figure out how to keep the puck out of the back of Vasilevskiy’s net, then they shouldn’t have issues advancing. If Vasi stays cold, Tampa Bay could be ousted quickly, similar to that trouncing they got by the hands of the Blue Jackets in the form of a sweep last season. If Vasi gets hot and the rest of the roster is healthy, Tampa Bay could be champions by July? August? Who knows.