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Top Shelf: Quiet storm: Bolts content with low profile
By Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Tampa Bay Lightning are quietly putting together one of the strongest starts to the 2013-14 season, but you won't hear the club complaining about the lack of attention.
The club's sniping centerman Steven Stamkos summed up his team's attitude perfectly a few weeks back.
"We probably have the quietest 8-3 record in the league," he said. "And we like it that way."
Fast forward to the present and the Lightning have improved that record to 10-4-0, but they're still managing to keep a low profile.
Everybody knows Tampa Bay is an offensive powerhouse, with Stamkos and Martin St. Louis providing loads of scoring up front, but the club also is doing a heck of a job keeping the puck out of its own net. Preventing the opposition from scoring had been a major problem for the Lightning in recent years, and it was the main factor in keeping Tampa out of the playoffs in each of the past two springs.
Tampa is currently tied for 11th in the NHL with 2.50 goals surrendered per game. That's after finishing 26th in the category last season (3.06 GPG) and placing dead last in the NHL the year before when it yielded a whopping 3.39 GPG during the 2011-12 season.
Even the Lightning team that made a surprising run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2010-11 had issues in its own end. Tampa Bay was tied for 21st in the league in goals allowed per game (2.85) during that regular season before lowering that number to 2.50 during the postseason.
Tampa Bay's trip to the conference finals in the spring of 2011 was sparked by a midseason trade for veteran goaltender Dwayne Roloson, and the 2013-14 club also is reaping the rewards of a deal made at last season's trade deadline.
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman took the franchise to the conference finals in his first year calling the shots, and ever since he has been desperately trying to make good on that early promise. Although Yzerman's trade for Roloson was a good stop-gap move, he knew the now-retired goaltender wasn't a long-term solution.
It appears "Stevie Y" may have found the answer to the club's goaltending prayers when he acquired Ben Bishop from Ottawa at last season's trade deadline.
The Lightning sent rookie forward Cory Conacher to the Senators on April 3 of the lockout-shortened season to land the 6-foot-7 goaltender, and the move appears to be a stroke of genius on Yzerman's part.
While Bishop was less than impressive during a nine-game run in Tampa last season, the American has been as reliable as they come in 2013-14. In 11 games, the 26-year-old has posted a 9-2-0 record to go with a 2.15 goals against average and .925 save percentage.
Although he's clearly outplayed backup Anders Lindback, the Bolts are doing their best to not come right out and declare Bishop the No. 1 goaltending option. Considering Bishop only started 38 games in his career heading into this season, it's probably a good idea to keep things on an even keel and not put any added pressure on the young goaltender.
"He has the job, but he's earning the job," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper recently told the Tampa Bay Tribune. "It hasn't been given to him. Ben Bishop has holes, but I think he's raised his competition level from last year to this year. He understands what we expect of him."
With less than 20 percent of the regular season behind them, the Lightning are looking like a playoff team. In fact, the club enters Thursday's game against Edmonton locked in a three-way tie for first place in the Atlantic Division along with Toronto and Detroit.
Still, when a team is coming off consecutive seasons out of the playoffs, it's important to stay the course and keep plugging away. Perhaps, one of the reasons Stamkos said his team enjoys having a quietly strong season is that he knows respect will come in due time as long as Tampa can keep proving its early success is no fluke.
After all, if Bishop continues to do his part in cleaning up things at the back end, it's a good bet Stamkos, St. Louis and the offense can take care of the rest.
11/07 15:40:58 ET
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