BY PAT PICKENS
In 2011, the Tampa Bay Lightning fell just one game short of the Stanley Cup Finals.
And if six games are any indication, it appears as if the Lightning could be poised for a deep playoff run again in 2013.
While Patrick Marleau and the San Jose Sharks’ top line have generated headlines coast-to-coast, Tampa Bay is the NHL’s highest-scoring team. The Lightning have potted 29 goals — an average of nearly five per game — and are 5-1-0 through six games, entering their home game with Winnipeg Friday.
Yes, these are the same Lightning who finished with a disappointing 84 points in 2011-12. But Martin St. Louis is partying like it is 2004 —12 points in six games. Steven Stamkos is playing like Steven Stamkos, and Ryan Malone is on pace for 25 goals.
Throw in Vincent Lecavalier, who also has turned back the clock, and you’ve accounted for six of the Lightning’s Eastern Conference-high nine power-play goals. Tampa Bay’s power play is rolling, scoring at a 30 per cent clip.
Yet it feels too soon to call this team a contender.
Four of Tampa Bay’s wins thus far have come against the East’s four worst teams. And although Philadelphia does not seem poised to live near the bottom all year, Tampa Bay got the Flyers at their low point, pummeling Philly 5-1 on Sunday in St. Pete.
While we’re talking about St. Pete, four of Tampa’s six games — all wins— have come at the St. Pete Times Forum. Tampa Bay hosts Winnipeg Friday and the Rangers Saturday, then will embark upon a four-game road stretch against three playoff teams — Boston, New Jersey and the Rangers.
The Bruins and Devils have surrendered the fewest goals in the Eastern Conference, and that may bring Tampa Bay’s power play back to earth. The Lightning can’t score at a 30 percent clip all season, and their PK — presently seventh-best in the NHL — will surrender some goals here too.
And although Tampa Bay has surrendered just 15 goals in six games, can Anders Lindback — and his 26th-best 2.80 goals-against average — really be trusted for the whole season?
It’s not that the Lightning can’t make playoff contender. In fact, with their torrid start — and the Southeast Division’s apparent unawareness that the hockey season has begun — I’d consider Tampa Bay the favourite to claim its division and, at least, the East’s No. 3 seed.
But just because this season is shorter than most doesn’t mean we should hand Tampa Bay the Prince of Wales Trophy at the 1/8 pole. The Capitals started last year 7-0, and their coach didn’t even survive the full season.
It’s been proven time and again that high-scoring hockey puts fans in the seats, but it doesn’t win games come May.