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Lightning Round: Bolts start the second half of the season in good shape

Everyone is healthy and the division is still in reach.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Winnipeg Jets Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images

With the All-Star break officially over, the Lightning return to action on the road tonight against the Dallas Stars. After some rough patches during the first couple months of the season, the Lightning have rounded into shape and look like the team most expected them to be before the season.

While they haven’t been able to climb all the way back up the standings, the Bolts do now possess the best goal differential in the league as well as the best 5v5 expected goal differential. By most measures, they grade out as one of the best teams in the NHL.

If they can continue to play that way, they’ll have a chance to gain some ground in the standings this week. They currently have three games in hand on the Atlantic Division leading Boston Bruins. The Lightning play twice this week before the Bruins play their next game meaning that Tampa can gain four points in the standings over the next few days. That would cut their deficit in the division in half.

They’ll have their full complement of players to try to win get off to a strong start this week. Before the break, several players were dealing with injuries. Ryan McDonagh, Braydon Coburn, Ondrej Palat, and Pat Maroon had all missed some time in the weeks before the All-Star game. Yesterday in practice, head coach Jon Cooper said that everyone is healthy and ready to go for today’s game.

Despite the low points in the first part of the season, the Lightning are now well positioned to make a run at erasing the lingering feelings of failure from last season. They’re playing as well as they have at any point during Cooper’s tenure. They have a healthy roster. And if they can close strong over the final 30+ games, they should find themselves with at least one playoff series at home if not more.

Lightning Org News

The Solar Bears and Crunch were both off yesterday. But a couple Crunch players did participate in the AHL All-Star weekend festivities last night. Both Alex Barre-Boulet and Cameron Gaunce were on the ice with their North Division teammates for the skills competition.

The most notable moment of the evening was Martin Frk, who’s currently with the Ontario Reign in the Los Angeles Kings organization, winning the hardest shot competition with a 109.2 mph clapper. If that recording is correct, that would top even the NHL record.

Other Hockey News

The Rangers announced that they loaned disgruntled prospect Lias Andersson to HV71 in Sweden. HV71 is the club where Andersson played most of his developmental hockey. Rejoining them gives him a chance to continue playing hockey while the Rangers figure out how to resolve his NHL situation. Thus far, a trade hasn’t materialized but those talks could become more fruitful as the trade deadline approaches. And if not then, maybe at the draft this summer.