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Second-quarter storylines: Lightning, Steen, Suter

by Adam Kimelman

With the first quarter of the 2013-14 season complete, looks at some of its biggest storylines and award contenders.

The halfway point of the 2013-14 season will coincide with the end of the 2013 portion of the schedule. Questions that have arisen in the first quarter of the season could be answered in the second quarter.

Here are a few storylines worth keeping an eye on as we head into the next portion of the season:

Will the Lightning continue to thunder through the League?

The Tampa Bay Lightning were a great story for the first quarter of the season. A team picked by few to be Stanley Cup Playoff contenders, they've been among the top teams in the Eastern Conference all season.

Steven Stamkos
Center - TBL
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 23
SOG: 60 | +/-: 11
However, they got there in large part thanks to the outstanding play of top-line center Steven Stamkos. He had 14 goals in 17 games, but a broken right leg sustained Nov. 11 has Stamkos out indefinitely.

How will the Lightning fare without him? They won their first two but have lost three straight entering their game Friday at the Anaheim Ducks. They remain second in the Atlantic Division and coach Jon Cooper said he doesn't think there will be too much of a drop-off.

"I said to our guys we had [Stamkos] in our lineup and people weren't watching the Lightning," he told the team's website. "I don't think people noticed we were at the top of the standings. The irony is that with [Stamkos] out is the whole hockey world is watching us now. The message to the guys is don't let our fans down and don't let our organization down. Play with passion, have 19 guys pick up the one that's missing and everything will work out."

Can the new coaches fix their team's problems?

The first quarter of the season saw three coaches fired: Peter Laviolette by the Philadelphia Flyers on Oct. 7, replaced by Craig Berube; Kevin Dineen by the Florida Panthers on Nov. 8, replaced by Peter Horachek; and Ron Rolston on Nov. 13, replaced on an interim basis by Ted Nolan.

For Berube and Horachek, long-time NHL assistant coaches, this is their first time running an NHL bench. For Nolan, it's a return to the place he started as an NHL coach back in 1995.

So how have the new guys done? Nolan won his first game but lost the next three, while Horachek has gone 3-4-0 in seven games. Berube, who has been on the job now for 18 games, believes his players finally are getting the gist of the way he wants them to play. After starting 4-7-1 under Berube, the Flyers are 5-0-1 in their past six and have moved within three points of third place in the Metropolitan Division.

"I think it's finally becoming more of a habit rather than thinking about it," forward Matt Read told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "You notice it in games; we're sustaining more pressure, creating more turnovers in the neutral zone and playing better defense."

But can they continue this strong run? And can the Panthers and Sabres pick up their play as the players get used to the new voices?

Alexander Steen
Center - STL
GOALS: 17 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 26
SOG: 73 | +/-: 12
Will Steen keep scoring?

St. Louis Blues forward Alexander Steen's career-best for goals in a season is 24 in 68 games in 2009-10. At the rate he's scoring, he'll have that many goals by the beginning of December.

Can Steen possibly keep this up? He entered the weekend tied for the League lead with 17 goals in 21 games.

That rate puts him on pace for 66 goals. While it's incredibly difficult to imagine him staying on that pace, could a 40-goal season be possible?

"[Steen] is as confident as anyone right now, and he seems to be on fire," Blues captain and linemate David Backes said. "He's got a level of confidence. He's always got a great shot, but I think he's got that feeling to just get it in the net. The way he's firing that thing it's tough for goalies to see. With his skill set and his work ethic, he's tough to play against. He's getting a ton of chances every game and he's finding the back of the net and it's great to watch.

"He's got the confidence that he can go out and dominate any game and rightfully so, because he's that good."

Can Suter keep going?

Ryan Suter
Defense - MIN
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 14 | PTS: 14
SOG: 44 | +/-: 0
It's almost stranger to see Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter off the ice as it is to find him on it. He's munching minutes like Joey Chestnut eats hot dogs on July 4.

Suter leads the League with an average ice time of 29:32 per game. If Suter maintains his current ice time average, it would be the most for any player in a single season since Chris Pronger averaged 30:14 per game with the St. Louis Blues in 1999-2000.

He's been over 30 minutes 11 times in 23 games, and he's played less than 25 minutes once.

So far the extended ice time hasn't bothered him -- he has 14 assists and an even plus/minus rating, while the Wild are allowing the fewest shots per game. And Suter said he doesn't think that will change.

"I feel the more I play, the better I am," he said. "You don't get tired out there. In the heat of the moment you're just trying to win that next shift. You're not thinking about being tired."

Wild coach Mike Yeo has to be thinking about holding back Suter a touch to keep him fresh for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The rub, though, is how will keeping Suter off the ice affect the Wild's playoff chances? It's a balancing act player and team will have to try to keep level.

Will trade talk heat up?

Ryan Miller
Goalie - BUF
RECORD: 4-13-0
GAA: 3.17 | SVP: 0.918
We've already seen a few major trades so far this season, and there's a chance we could see more as a few teams have committed to rebuilding projects.

Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon has said he's looking to move out some players; Kris Versteeg was sent to the Chicago Blackhawks, and other veterans could be next.

The Buffalo Sabres could also be heavy in trade discussions. The team already dealt forward Thomas Vanek, and as new president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine gets to know his roster there could be more changes to come. Goalie Ryan Miller, an impending unrestricted free agent, could become very popular around the League.

While trades might not be consummated until the early spring, the rumor mill likely will start revving up in the next quarter of the season.


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