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Burns: Three things from the first 60 games of the Bolts season

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay’s commanding 4-1 victory over the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks capped the first 60 games of 2014-15 for the Lightning.

And with over two-thirds of the regular season now in the record books, the Bolts are in a great position – currently tied for first in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division with Montreal -- heading into the final stretch.

Tampa Bay has a couple of days off before continuing their West Coast trip Saturday at Arizona. Let’s use the slight break in the schedule to take a look at what went right for the Bolts over the first 60 and what could still use some improvement.

THE BEST

1. GOALAPALOOZA

If you like seeing the puck in the back of the net, you’re following the right team. The Lightning are far and away the highest-scoring team in the NHL. The Bolts league-leading 193 total goals are 12 more than the second-place New York Islanders (181), and their 3.22 per-game average well outpaces the New York Rangers, who are next on the list at 3.13.

Tampa Bay is led by Steven Stamkos and his 31 tallies, tied for third-most in the NHL, but the puck doesn’t stop there. Ten different players have 10 or more goals, a depth in goal-scoring unmatched in the league. The majority of NHL teams have six or less players in double figures for goals.

2. THE TRIPLETS

Is there a more exciting line in the NHL? Center Tyler Johnson and left winger Ondrej Palat have picked right up where they left off following rookie campaigns that saw the pair finish in the top three for the Calder Trophy given to the best first-year player in the league. And with the addition of Russian right wing Nikita Kucherov, opponents have little chance to shut down all three players when they’re on the ice together. Johnson leads the Bolts in points (56) and assists (34); Palat ranks second for assists (32); and Kucherov is tied with Johnson for second-most goals on the team (22) and ranks third for scoring (51).

Combined, the trio has accounted for 151 of Tampa Bay’s 519 total points, or nearly 30 percent of the team’s scoring.

3. MINDING THE NET

With the playoffs looming, the Lightning can feel confident they have a pair of goaltenders as good as any in the league. Starter Ben Bishop proved last season’s breakout when he set franchise records for wins (37), save percentage (.924) and goals-against average (2.23) was no fluke. Bishop is currently tied for fourth in the league for wins with 29 after a superb effort in Anaheim. And rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy has been phenomenal in his nine appearances this season, going 4-2-1 and producing a team season-high 45 saves against the Islanders.

AREAS TO UPGRADE

1. THE POWERLESS PLAY

The Lightning still haven’t figured out what’s wrong with their power play, perhaps the most perplexing issue facing this team considering the abundance of natural goal scorers the team possesses. The Bolts went 0-for-3 and were shutout with the man advantage again on Wednesday, about the only thing that didn’t go right in Anaheim. Currently, the Bolts rank a paltry 24th in the NHL with just a 16.9 percent success rate.

2. GOALS AGAINST

It’s not that the Bolts goals-against average (2.60 and 13th in the NHL) is necessarily bad, it just needs to improve before the postseason. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper has said repeatedly his team has to be in the top 10 and probably the top eight for GAA if it wants to contend for a Stanley Cup. The Lightning are headed in the right direction, but more work needs to be done.

3. ROAD WORRIERS

The Lightning have been near unbeatable at Amalie Arena this season going 22-6-1, their home wins second only to Nashville (25) in the league. The road hasn’t been as kind, however, to the Bolts. Following Wednesday’s win in Anaheim, Tampa Bay is 14-12-5 away from home, about middle of the pack for the NHL. By comparison, 13 other teams in the league have more road wins than the Lightning.

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