TORONTO -- The Tampa Bay Lightning have been one of the surprise teams in the early portion of the 2013-14 season, but their path to the Stanley Cup Playoffs took an unexpected turn Monday when Steven Stamkos sustained a broken leg after crashing into a goal post during a game against the Boston Bruins.
Stamkos has been the League's premier goal scorer over the past five seasons, racking up 199 goals while playing in all 311 of his team's games since the start of the 2009-10 season. He enters play Tuesday tied for the NHL lead with 14 goals and 23 points and has helped the Lightning to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
General manager Steve Yzerman said the Lightning likely will look at internal options to replace as much of Stamkos’ scoring as possible.
"We're not going to be able to replace him from outside the organization," Yzerman told NHL.com on Tuesday morning before the General Managers' meeting. "We'll obviously look at options, but initially we'll recall a forward from Syracuse [American Hockey League] and go from there."
That forward is J.T. Brown, who was called up Tuesday. Brown was an undrafted free agent from the University of Minnesota-Duluth the team signed in 2012. He played five NHL games at the end of the 2011-12 season and has four goals, 10 points and a plus-5 rating in 13 AHL games this season.
Other young forwards on the club will be counted on to help support star Martin St. Louis by committee. Alex Killorn, Richard Panik and Tyler Johnson have played well for the Lightning after being key members of successful AHL teams the past two seasons.
The Lightning enter their game Tuesday at the Montreal Canadiens (7:30 p.m. ET, RDS) eighth in the League in goals per game, but the biggest reason for their rise this season has been the work at the other end of the ice. Tampa Bay is 12th in goals-against, yielding 2.47 per game. That’s a vast improvement from 26th place last season and 30th two seasons ago.
Center - TBL
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 23
SOG: 60 | +/-: 11
"We didn't necessarily expect our record would be what it is, but we felt we'd have a competitive team," Yzerman said. "Things can change very quickly as we've seen with an injury. We're pleased with the direction our team is headed and some of our younger players and veteran players. Our goaltending has been good. It's early in the season. I don't get too caught up in the record now. We'll just try to keep winning games and plugging along."
For Stamkos, it is 93 days until Feb. 13, 2014, the day of Canada's first game at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, against Norway. There is at least a small chance he could return in time to play for his country.
For the Lightning, a 12-5-0 start has them atop the East and six points clear of the first team outside the top eight in the conference. They'll need goaltender Ben Bishop to continue to play well and they'll have to find some offense from sources other than Stamkos to remain in contention until their superstar returns.
"He's having surgery [Tuesday] morning. We'll have an update after that," Yzerman said. "We play Montreal [Tuesday night]. That's our next step. [Stamkos] has to have the surgery, then we'll get him back to Tampa and begin the recovery process."