Lightning midseason report

The Lightning is halfway through the season — 41 games played, 41 remaining — and no one predicted the level of success it has had, especially after it lost star center Steven Stamkos with a broken right tibia on Nov. 11. But with a team that includes eight rookies among 12 players with fewer than a full 82-game season of experience, Tampa Bay (25-12-4) is second in the Atlantic Division and third in the Eastern Conference. The Lightning also is 13-7-4 without Stamkos and has proved wrong those in the media who believed losing him would capsize its season. It's enough to give coaches and players a real sense of satisfaction, but with the caveat there is a lot more to do. "We've put ourselves in this position, and we've proven ourselves," coach Jon Cooper said. "Now it's become, 'Don't let what we've done in the first half ruin the second half. Don't let the world think we're a fluke.' "

MVP

G Ben Bishop

There is no way to overstate what Bishop, 27, has meant to the stability of the season and to a franchise that has gone through 20 goaltenders since Nikolai Khabibulin led it to the 2004 Stanley Cup title. At 6 feet 7, the NHL's tallest goalie is tied for second in the league with 22 wins (22-5-3). He is tied for first with four shutouts and entered Saturday tied for first with a .936 save percentage and third with a 1.83 goals-against average. Bishop's most remarkable stat: He has allowed two or fewer goals in 26 of 31 starts and in eight straight.

Biggest disappointment

RW Teddy Purcell

With eight goals and 23 points, Purcell is on course for 16 and 46. That would be a huge dropoff from the career bests of 24 and 65 he posted in 2011-12. With a new three-year, $13.5 million deal and playing on the power play, it is time for him to contribute more. Purcell had four goals and eight points in his first six games but just four and 15 in his next 35.

Nicest surprise

D Andrej Sustr

With just 28 pro games under his belt — two with Tampa Bay — Sustr made the big club out of camp. He has been solid at the game's most difficult position and is plus-7 with an average 15:56 of ice time. At 6 feet 8, his reach makes him difficult to get around, and his instincts are good. The rookie, 23, even likes to join the offensive rush. He just needs muscle on his 225-pound frame.

Best story

D Jean-Philippe Cote

We're not sure how long Cote, 31, will stick with the big club, but there is something inspiring about a player who made it back to The Show after toiling in the minors and Europe for almost eight years and going 2,875 days between NHL games. Adding to the narrative: Last season with AHL Syracuse, Cote had to deal with one of his checks, though clean, ending the career of Canadiens prospect Blake Geoffrion.

Most underrated

LW Ondrej Palat

With seven goals and 18 points and at plus-11, Palat does about everything well — skate, shoot, defend, pass, hit — though he does it without fanfare. Most impressive is his game savvy. Rarely caught on the wrong side of the puck, the rookie also is a regular on the penalty kill.

Game to remember

Lightning 2, Canadiens 1 (SO)

In its first game without Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay played one of its best games of the season on Nov. 13 at the Bell Centre, outshooting Montreal 45-29. Ryan Malone scored in regulation, Valtteri Filppula scored in the shootout and Ben Bishop made 28 saves. "A character win," captain Marty St. Louis said.

Game to forget

Devils 2, Lightning 1

As described by coach Jon Cooper, the Lightning — outshot 22-17 on Oct. 29 at the Prudential Center — did not use its speed, its puck retrieval was bad and the defense did not join the rush. The loss also prompted the short callup from AHL Syracuse of Brett Connolly.

Number of the day

10 Lightning wins against the Western Conference, most in the East.

Most ridiculous stat

When he was injured on Nov. 11, Steven Stamkos led the Lightning with 14 goals in 17 games. It wasn't until Dec. 21, in Game 36, he finally lost the top spot to Marty St. Louis.

Stat pack

The Lightning's 25 wins and 54 points are team records at 41 games. … Tampa Bay has been shut out six times, tied for most in the league entering Saturday. … Valtteri Filppula has 15 goals and 32 points in 41 games. He had nine goals and 17 points in 41 games last season for the Red Wings. … The Lightning is 14-4-2 at home. … Four shorthanded goals allowed on the road entered Saturday tied for most in the league. … D Radko Gudas leads all rookies with 140 hits and entered Saturday second with 69 blocks. … C Tyler Johnson leads all rookie forwards with an average 18:11 of ice time. … Tampa Bay is 10-4-4 in one-goal games, 9-2-2 in overtime and shootouts. … D Matt Carle leads the team with an average 22:16 of ice time and 82 blocks. ... D Victor Hedman is on pace for career bests of 14 goals and 42 points.

Added excellence

RW Marty St. Louis

Since Steven Stamkos was injured, St. Louis has 10 goals and 22 points in 24 games. The output hasn't made up for Stamkos' absence but it reminds that St. Louis, at 38, still is one of the league's most dynamic players. He's durable, too; his average 21:30 of ice time entered Saturday leading all league wings. Defensively, his 40 takeaways were tied for fifth among league forwards.

Lightning midseason report 01/04/14 [Last modified: Saturday, January 4, 2014 9:03pm]

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