While most of the teams in the NHL are battling amongst one another for playoff spots and positioning in the standings, the Tampa Bay Lightning continue to flaunt their depth and view the rest of the league way back in the rearview mirror.
Fresh off a 6-2 trouncing of the Toronto Maple Leafs last night, the Bolts continue to surge in the standings, now sitting with 110 points atop the Atlantic Division and entire league. Tampa Bay is still the only team to have officially locked in their postseason plans and are looking to return to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the 2014-15 season and third time in franchise history.
A big reason why the Bolts are favored to accomplish this feat, and a big reason for why this team is having such a historic year, is due to the depth throughout this team’s lineup, from top to bottom. Even when team captain Steven Stamkos is held off the scoring sheet against a top-tier squad like the Maple Leafs and Nikita Kucherov is kept to just one scoring point, with a secondary assist, the Bolts can still manage to net six goals and dominate the play on the ice.
All four of the Lightning’s lines made it onto the scoring sheet in last night’s game, which included second-line winger Tyler Johnson putting up two goals, one of which counted as the game winner. Although Johnson had already snapped his four-game scoring drought with an assist against Detroit last Saturday, he really made himself heard with his performance against the Leafs.
Tampa Bay Lightning
And how about that retooled fourth line of Adam Erne, Cedric Paquette and Yanni Gourde? Gourde put up two apples and Paquette was just a goal away from his second-career hat trick – his first was Jan. 29, 2015. This was his fourth two-goal game in his NHL career.
It can’t be left unsaid that the Bolts’ defense is not at full-capacity, as both Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman continue to be on the shelf until further notice. However, defenseman Jan Rutta was able to log his first points in a Bolts sweater by putting up two assists in his second-career game with Tampa Bay.
It is safe to say that Rutta has acclimated himself well into the third pairing alongside Braydon Coburn in these early showings. This is, without a doubt, comforting to head coach Jon Cooper who knows that health and depth is the key to making a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Having players like Ryan Callahan and Jan Rutta – who could be viewed now as the go-to eighth man for the Bolts’ defense – that can easily slot into the lineup, should they be called upon, is a huge plus for a team that already holds an abundant amount of “huge plusses” in its roster.
So yes, as the Lightning press on in this regular season, everyone else keeps getting smaller in the rearview mirror, although the rearview mirror will be no more come playoff time. But that doesn’t mean the Bolts’ strengths in depth and domination on the ice will be no more as well.