Fresh off of an outstanding week, going a perfect 3-0 to start a four-game home stand, the Tampa Bay Lightning got a mini break before playing every other day up until their bye week and the All-Star break.
Two days later, the Lightning started a road trip that was meant to test them, with three games in four days. It began with a back-to-back against two Atlantic Division foes, the Buffalo Sabres, and Detroit Red Wings, before facing the surprisingly good Philadelphia Flyers in the City of Brotherly Love. They finally had a winning trip, going 2-1, with the lone loss coming to a Red Wings team they were neck and neck with entering play.
After beating the Flyers to get four of a possible six points out of that trip, the Lightning returned home for two games, heading into a nice 10-day break. They beat the Arizona Coyotes and New Jersey Devils by 6-3 in the finals. Oddly enough, they had a final score of 6-3 in the three games played before their bye week and the All-Star break.
The young call-ups from AHL Syracuse continued to shine, making the most of their opportunity at the big league level. Finnish forward Waltteri Merela collected his first NHL goal versus the Wild, while Mitchell Chaffee scored his first NHL goal against the Coyotes. Defenseman Max Crozier had his second point in two games on Chaffee’s goal, with Emil Lilleberg getting the secondary assist.
With the Lightning winning eight of their past nine games, general manager Julien Brisebois has some decisions to make, especially on the blue line. Haydn Fleury, Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak, and Tanner Jeannot all should be ready to return from injury following the team’s 10-day break. Still, Crozier, Lilleberg, Merela, and Chaffee’s play has been impressive to the point that at least a couple of them deserve to stay in the NHL for the remainder of this season.
Nikita Kucherov also continued to play like an MVP, with points in all but one game dating back to January 9 versus the Los Angeles Kings. He had multi-point games in four of the Lightning’s last six games, nine coming in the team’s past three leading into the break. That earned him NHL First Star of the Week honors for the week ending January 28. He currently leads the league with 85 points, one more than Colorado Avalanche captain Nathan MacKinnon. While most of the media has already handed the Hart Trophy, given to the NHL’s Most Valuable Player, to MacKinnon halfway through the 2023-24 season, Kucherov quietly goes about his business. It’s not a stretch to say that Kucherov is the main reason Tampa Bay is holding on to a playoff spot right now.
Speaking of Kucherov, he kicked off a six-game stretch filled with milestones by becoming the fastest player in franchise history to reach 500 career assists against the Wild. Captain Steven Stamkos became only the sixth active NHL player to get 1,100 points versus the Coyotes. Finally, 2009 second-overall pick Victor Hedman reached 700 points in a victory over the Devils to close out the Lightning’s first half of the season.
Can the Lightning keep rolling after ten days off? While unknown, their postseason hopes ride on winning more games than they lose. Playing well defensively will be key, as is shooting the puck when the opportunity presents itself.https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#search/me/FFNDWNFKpfdcsPQnthrDnXXHRvPHlCpg