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Lightning midseason: Who is the biggest surprise and the hottest?

Where is Tampa Bay at the midseason? In a very different spot than it started the season.
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) celebrates his goal during first-period action at Amalie Arena on Thursday.
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) celebrates his goal during first-period action at Amalie Arena on Thursday. [ DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Jan. 10, 2020
Updated Jan. 10, 2020

TAMPA — The Lightning hit the halfway point of the season on Monday. They’re now two games into the second half, but let’s take a look at where they stand.

The biggest, most important distinction: They’re in a playoff spot, battling back-and-forth with Toronto for second in the Atlantic Division. The Lightning are one of the hottest teams in the league right now, on a nine-game win streak after Thursday’s 4-0 win over Arizona.

Related: Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Lightning got their first shutout of the season on Thursday

Tampa Bay is among the league’s top-scoring teams. The penalty kill is climbing up the ranks the power play is tied for first. Things are looking good for a team that seemed to be sputtering out of the gate.

Biggest surprise

Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Alex Killorn (17) beats Arizona Coyotes goaltender Adin Hill (31) to score the first goal Thursday.
Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Alex Killorn (17) beats Arizona Coyotes goaltender Adin Hill (31) to score the first goal Thursday. [ DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times ]

Alex Killorn has found another gear in his game this season. The forward is two goals from reaching 20 for the first time in his eight-year career. The 30-year-old has stepped into a larger leadership role this season and carried the resulting confidence in to his play. He has played in more offensive roles, including on the first power-play unit, and earned all of it.

Most improved

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) celebrates his goal against the Minnesota Wild on Dec. 5.
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) celebrates his goal against the Minnesota Wild on Dec. 5. [ DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times ]

Mikhail Sergachev wanted a bigger role, so he upped his game. The third-year, 21-year-old defenseman is playing a more physical game. And now, that doesn’t just mean his fight in the Buffalo game. Sergachev is using his body better, positioning himself to make hits and knock players off the puck. Combine that with his already strong skating and good shot and Sergachev has become a dangerous player.

Getting hot

Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) works to keep the puck out with help from defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) and defenseman Erik Cernak (81) as Arizona Coyotes left wing Taylor Hall (91) goes tumbling to the ice on Thursday.
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) works to keep the puck out with help from defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) and defenseman Erik Cernak (81) as Arizona Coyotes left wing Taylor Hall (91) goes tumbling to the ice on Thursday. [ DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times ]

A couple of weeks ago, Andrei Vasilevskiy wasn’t inspiring great confidence. He was playing inconsistently, again without that “how’d he do that element” we associate with his acrobatic saves. The goalie has turned a corner in the last few games, however. He’s won his last seven starts and looked smooth in net. Even when he saw only 23 shots from Vancouver, he looked in control enough to have made a difference in the game (though the offense poured on enough goals not to need Vasilevskiy to do so).

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Related: The Lightning lose Pat Maroon and Ondrej Palat in win over Arizona

Best game

Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Alex Killorn (17) beats Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) and Canucks defenseman Oscar Fantenberg (5) to break the tie as the Bolts go up 3-2 in an explosive Lightning six-goal second period.
Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Alex Killorn (17) beats Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom (25) and Canucks defenseman Oscar Fantenberg (5) to break the tie as the Bolts go up 3-2 in an explosive Lightning six-goal second period. [ DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times ]

Okay so it was Game No. 42, but the 9-2 win over Vancouver might have been the Lightning’s best complete game. Nine goals will make any team look good, but it was more than that. They scored all of those goals without the risks we’ve seen from this team in the past. There was no ill-advised pinch to create a scoring opportunity, but also leave an opening the other way. The only dangerous chances the Lightning gave the Canucks in the second or third period came on a five-on-three power play.

Worst game

Carolina Hurricanes' Erik Haula (56) shoots the puck past Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Curtis McElhinney (35) for a goal on Oct. 6.
Carolina Hurricanes' Erik Haula (56) shoots the puck past Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Curtis McElhinney (35) for a goal on Oct. 6. [ KARL B DEBLAKER | AP ]

It’d take a lot to beat out Game No. 3 at Carolina in this category, and the Lightning are hoping not to. They squeezed out a point with an overtime loss, but they did not deserve it. The team was flat and got entirely out-worked by the Hurricanes. The Lightning went without a shot on goal in the second period and only had 13 in the game. Steven Stamkos took his team, himself included, to task after the game, and they haven’t reverted since.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.