Can a first-place team fly under the radar?
According to Steve Stamkos — who’s Tampa Bay Lightning sit atop the Atlantic Division — the answer is yes.
And what’s more, he prefers being overlooked.
“You look at our schedule and we’ve played some pretty tough teams.”
Stamkos, second in NHL scoring to Sidney Crosby, has a point. The Lightning’s resume boasts some signature wins, including a pair over defending Stanley Cup champs Chicago (one coming at the United Center, no less) and a 5-1 drubbing of the 2012 champs, Los Angeles.
What’s got the Bolts humming? After a frustrating ’13 campaign in which little went right, things have really fallen into place.
The biggest development — and perhaps most important — has come in goal, where Ben Bishop nixed any talk of a timeshare with Anders Lindback by taking the No. 1 gig and running with it. Bishop’s posted a sparking 7-1-0 record with a 2.47 GAA and .914 save percentage, and is just four wins shy of his total for all of last season.
The other big development? An influx of AHLers groomed under current head coach Jon Cooper.
Radko Gudas, Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson, Richard Panik and Ondrej Palat — all members of the Norfolk team that won the Calder Cup with Cooper in 2012 — have enjoyed solid starts to the year. Gudas is a physical presence, leading the team in PIM (53) while notching four points in 11 games, averaging 19:09 TOI.
Killorn has seven points, Johnson six, Palat and Panik five — and all have played at least 10 games. Killorn has been especially impressive, averaging nearly 17 minutes a night.
Of course, we’d be remiss in discussing Tampa’s success without mentioning the captain, Martin St. Louis. The reigning Art Ross winner has been as good as ever, scoring 7G-7A in his first 11 games while averaging a whopping 21:05 a night. That average leads all Bolts forwards and puts the 38-year-old 13th among NHL forwards.