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Fast start doesn't have Bolts popping champagne

by Dan Rosen
It's Steve Yzerman's job to stay humble and stay the course, because if he, as the Tampa Bay Lightning's general manager, started to wax poetic about how great his team has been through the first five weeks of the season, then there's no way his players would be able to contain themselves, either.

Yes, there is excitement for hockey in Tampa once again, and, yes, the Lightning are, as of Wednesday, one of the better teams in the League this season. But eight wins in 14 games isn't going to get Yzerman all worked up. He's too smart of an executive and won way too much as a player to go nutty over a decent month.

"What are we, 14 games in? So I don't know how successful we are," Yzerman said.

The Lightning picked up a sound 4-0 win against the struggling Maple Leafs on Tuesday. It was their first home game since a four-game swing out west in which they picked up only three points (1-2-1).

Yzerman called that recent trip through Phoenix, Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose "eye-opening for all of our players, our coaching staff and good for myself and (assistant GM) Julien (BriseBois) to assess our team. We continue to do that on a daily basis.

"We got a lot of work to do. One thing we're very pleased with is the work ethic and character of our players. They've really shown from Day 1 at training camp their willingness to not only remain with the team but to make it a better environment to play better."

Of course, you can't talk about the Lightning without mentioning Steven Stamkos, who entered Wednesday's action as the League leader in goals (13) and points (24). Yzerman said all the reports he received on Stamkos last season when he was considering him for Team Canada and after taking the Tampa job this summer are 100-percent accurate.

"First of all, he's a very nice young man, a very humble young guy, polite, very personable, upbeat, always with a smile on his face but very professional in his work ethic," Yzerman said. "He's very serious about the game but he comes off always with a smile and very polite. I'm very fortunate to start in an organization with a young player like him."

Now let's go around the conference to check in with all 15 teams. They are listed in order of their standing as of Wednesday:

 Washington Capitals (11-4-0, 22 points)

The Caps have won five in a row and Alex Ovechkin is on a seven-game point streak, with 4 goals and 8 assists over the span. He has 8 goals and 12 assists this season, putting him second in the NHL in points behind Stamkos. One of the key players on this team so far has been second-line forward Brooks Laich, who leads the NHL with a plus-13 rating. He had 2 goals and an assist in Tuesday's 5-3 win at Madison Square Garden. Mike Green has points in six straight games (4-6-10).

 Philadelphia Flyers (9-4-2, 20 points)

Claude Giroux and his three-year contract extension has been the story of the week for the Flyers. Giroux leads the Flyers with 7 goals and 14 points. Sergei Bobrovsky has also been quite a find. The Russian goalie has taken over as the No. 1 in Philly and he's 8-2-1 with a 2.19 GAA. Captain Mike Richards had a six-game point scoring streak (2-5-7) snapped in Sunday's overtime loss at Washington. The Flyers had won six straight prior to that trip to the nation's capital.

 Montreal Canadiens (9-5-1, 19 points)

They're thrilled with Jaroslav Halak in St. Louis, but that offseason trade has had a significant impact on the Habs, too. Carey Price showed again Tuesday how valuable he is to this team by making 34 saves -- including 19 in the third period -- in a 2-0 win against Vancouver. Price now is 8-5-1 with a 2.28 GAA and two shutouts. Andrei Markov scored his first goal in five games Tuesday.

 Tampa Bay Lightning (8-4-2, 18 points)

After a tough road trip out west, the Lightning came home and breezed by Toronto for a 4-0 win. The Bolts went through their first bit of adversity this season when they went 1-2-1 over a four-game swing through Phoenix, Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose. It doesn't get easier this week, though, as they head to Washington for a game Thursday and then to Pittsburgh for a game Friday.

 Ottawa Senators (8-6-1, 17 points)

The Senators have crept up the standings with four straight wins and six in their last seven games. They've taken advantage of a soft part of the schedule, with games against the struggling Coyotes, Panthers, Islanders, Maple Leafs and Thrashers, but they also picked up a 3-2 win against Montreal. Goalie Brian Elliott has looked good in making 11 straight starts and Jason Spezza is rounding into form after a groin injury slowed his start. Milan Michalek returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing four games.

 Carolina Hurricanes (8-7-0, 16 points)

Paul Maurice looked at 14 games as a benchmark. If his team was .500 or better at the 14-game mark, he'd be content and figure they were ahead of the curve due to their early-season schedule and travel. They were exactly 7-7 at that point, and with Tuesday's 7-1 win against the Islanders, the Hurricanes jumped over the .500 mark. Jeff Skinner is towering over the rookie scoring race, with 6 goals, 9 assists and 15 points. Jordan Eberle is second behind Skinner with 8 points.

 Boston Bruins (7-3-1, 15 points)

Heading into Pittsburgh for Wednesday's game, the Bruins have lost back-to-back games to Washington and St. Louis, and David Krejci to a concussion. Early season Vezina Trophy hopeful Tim Thomas was pulled from the game in Washington after giving up three goals on 25 shots through two periods. Tuukka Rask allowed only one goal in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Blues, but Thomas was expected to return to the Bruins' net in Pittsburgh. Patrice Bergeron has been moved to the top line with Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic due to Krejci's concussion.

 New York Rangers (7-7-1, 15 points)

The Rangers have lost three out of four in a tough stretch. The only win came against the slumping Devils, but the losses were to top-flight teams Philadelphia, Boston and Washington. The Blueshirts put up a good fight Tuesday, limiting Washington to only 10 shots over the final 40 minutes, but the Caps scored four times. New York hosts Buffalo on Thursday, and could have Marian Gaborik (shoulder) in the lineup. Gaborik is quoted on the Rangers' Twitter feed as saying he's "good to go" against the Sabres.

 Pittsburgh Penguins (7-7-1, 15 points)

The most obvious sign coach Dan Bylsma has lost some faith in goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is that he's expected to start Brent Johnson on Wednesday against conference-rival Boston. Fleury is 1-6-0 this season and was pulled from his last start after allowing two goals on five shots less than seven minutes into the game. His GAA is 3.55, fourth-worst among qualifying goaltenders. On the other hand, Johnson is 6-1-1 and fourth in the NHL in GAA (1.63) and save percentage (.943).

 Atlanta Thrashers (6-6-3, 15 points)

Chris Mason has had his struggles in the Thrashers' net just like Fleury has for Pittsburgh. Mason's GAA (3.66) is worse than Fleury's. He was pulled from Tuesday's game after giving up four goals on 18 shots. The Thrashers are staying above water because of their offense, which has produced 45 goals, tied for fifth in the NHL entering Wednesday's games. However, the 54 goals they've allowed are the most in the NHL.

 Toronto Maple Leafs (5-6-3, 13 points)

Entering Wednesday, the Leafs had won only once in 10 games and the League's biggest media contingent is questioning how long GM Brian Burke can hang on to coach Ron Wilson. Burke recently came to the defense of his embattled coach, telling the media to focus on the players who have played poorly. The Leafs, shut out Tuesday for the third time this season, have 15 goals over their last 10 games. Goalie Jean-Sebastian Giguere called the effort from his teammates "unacceptable" after Tuesday's 4-0 loss.

 Florida Panthers (5-7-0, 10 points)

The Panthers, who host Toronto on Wednesday, have not gotten a consistent effort yet this season. They lost back-to-back games to Carolina this past weekend, falling 7-4 at home Friday and then 3-2 in Carolina on Saturday. The effort in Raleigh was better than the effort in Florida, but still not good enough. It's been like that a lot for the Panthers this season, but Wednesday's game against Toronto gives them a good opportunity to make up some ground.

 New York Islanders (4-8-2, 10 points)

Just like the Leafs, the Islanders' promising start to the season seems like it happened so long ago. The Isles have lost seven straight games and some haven't been close. The Islanders have allowed 31 goals over the losing streak while scoring only 12, including just six over the last five games. They start a three-game swing through California on Wednesday in Anaheim.

 Buffalo Sabres (4-9-2, 10 points)

The Sabres, in Newark on Wednesday to take on the Devils, are hoping to build off their 3-2 shootout win in Toronto on Saturday. Lindy Ruff is coaching his 1,000th game Wednesday night, but now there are questions of how many more he'll coach for the Sabres, a team he's led since 1997. However, like in Toronto, Ruff has received public backing from GM Darcy Regier. Goaltender Ryan Miller has missed the last four games and was not expected to dress Wednesday.

 New Jersey Devils (4-10-1, 9 points)

The Devils on Wednesday again will go for their first home win of the season, but they'll have to try without Martin Brodeur, who bruised his elbow in Chicago last week and had to sit out Friday's game against the Rangers. He was hoping to be ready for Wednesday's game against Buffalo, but the Devils called up Mike McKenna from AHL Albany to be the backup to Johan Hedberg. Mattias Tedenby is expected to make his NHL debut, becoming the eighth Devil to do so this season.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
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