Lightning strikes blaze the NHL standings and Tampa Bay sports

Ninety-two.

Ninety-two points in February.

Ninety-two points in February?! My God!

Where the Tampa Bay Lightning sits right now is on the cusp of securing a 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff berth, and it’s only February 17th. They’re 15 points ahead of the #2 club(s) in the National Hockey League right now. For sports fans who don’t know the NHL point system (and any fan actually does know) 15 points amounts to 7 wins and 1 overtime/shootout loss.

In 59 games played this season, the Bolts have won 44 of them. That’s thousands of a point under a .750 win percentage. The Lightning is better than that in the NHL’s point percentage department — they’re .780, that’s 78% of the possible 118 points from those 59 games played. That’s better than three-quarters of the potential points.

As a Lightning fan and long-time blogger, I’m aghast and impressed. For casual fans (…and the local media who don’t put emphasis on hockey because mediocrity in other local sports reigns supreme) this might just be notable because, hey! They’re not losing so much.

No, no, they’re not losing at all. Oh, sure, losses do happen – you can’t win’em all – but it’s been a rare, rare, rare thing this season: once in every four games.

I’d make comparisons to a Buccaneers NFL season but it’s not the same. An NFL season is 16 games, an NHL season is 82. If and when the Bucs win 12 games in a season, that’ll be nifty and grand…and a once a week affair. The Lightning are playing highly physical affairs on a regular basis and winning a majority of those efforts.

I’d compare the Bolts to the Rays, but that can’t truly be done. 162 games in baseball is a lot more playing time. To get .750 winning percentages in a Major League season is a rare-rare feat — that’s 122 wins! And not to slight the grand old game but the physical effort is much less intense than what a hockey game requires from a smaller roster of available players in a game.

Back to the Bolts, the number of note right now is 95 points. That number is basically the starting line for the NHL’s playoffs. If you cross 95 points, you’re in. Tampa Bay needs two wins (or a win and an overtime/shootout loss, or three overtime/shootout losses — hey, NHL points make it interesting) in order to cross that line.

Can it be done immediately? With how the team is playing, fans can see that as a certainty, but the opposition is worth noting as challenges. They are to play on the road against Columbus Blue Jackets (and former head coach John Tortorella — love ya’, John!) next and then travel to the streets of Philadelphia to play the Flyers before coming back home for a game against the Atlantic Division rival Buffalo Sabres.

Columbus is contending in the Metro for a top playoff spot. Philadelphia is trying to vie for a Wild Card as is Buffalo. I don’t expect any of these teams to lay down and play dead against the Lightning. Nor do I expect the Bolts to lay down against any of them either, though the potential is there as the Flyers or Sabres can be brushed off as non-contenders (trap games).

I wrote a piece before the season that stressed the fact the Lightning are outsiders in Tampa Bay sports as they stand as contenders (and have done so repeatedly the past several seasons). Where they stand right now is beyond contention. Tampa Bay sports haven’t truly seen it. This is not a club making an all-in effort that changes the system in desperation to finally truly vie for a championship (and squander the future to do so). This is a franchise that is largely a product of its own making (with several cogs pulled in from other clubs – the New York Rangers most notably). So many players are what embody Tampacuse (the development system that goes through the Lightning’s AHL affiliate of Syracuse). It amounts to players embraced by management who are producing and putting the Lightning in a position of excellence.

Mr. Yzerman? Wherever you are, sir, this is a job well done. Your product is what is shining, to which I and other fans must thank you. Bravo, sir, bravo!

That’s not to dismiss current Tampa Bay General Manager Julien BriseBois who has been a long-time part of the Tampacuse development system. It’s just an admission that what this club is developed as came by way of Steve Yzerman, who served as GM from 2010 until September 2018 when he departed the club suddenly. BriseBois has kept the team steady (to say the least) and I have to hope he continues that during the trade season that is now in full effect in the NHL.

This, the 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning so far, is something to revel in, people. This is something that is foreign in this region — a club that wins, regularly, without an owner kvetching for venue changes. This is something to invest in – emotionally – and lift your morale spirits through. It’s not just notable; it’s not just an aside in the local sports world. This is history being made. And the best – the playoffs — is yet to come.

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