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Lightning Round: Tampa Bay takes lead in Central Division AND YOUR HEARTS

Happy Valentine’s Day.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

After yesterday’s win against the Florida Panthers, the Tampa Bay Lightning have strengthened their position in the standings, taking a lead in both total points and points percentage in the Discover Central Division. This is how the standings looks like by today’s date (points percentage is chosen as the main indicator, given that the teams haven’t played the same amount for games):

The leading group of the division remains the same: the Panthers are still favorites, but the next couple of weeks will be very important for the team in terms of evaluating their actual upside, as the team will step by step play against the Lightning, the Hurricanes and the Stars.

The Dallas Stars have fallen off a cliff recently, losing five games in a row in their five latest games. They managed to collect three loser points in those games and stayed with the leading group thanks to those, but their performance was overall worrisome.

The Carolina Hurricanes have been more consistent in their latest games and were one of the teams who defeated the Stars during their losing streak. The Canes will more likely be the Lightning’s main opponent in the division this season – according to Micah Blake McCurdy’s points projection, both teams are on the pace for a similar amount of points

The Columbus Blue Jackets and the Chicago Blackhawks are sitting just outside of the leading group and pushing the Dallas Stars from behind. Both teams have three wins in five games and managed to close the gap with the Stars. This is a very impressive especially for the Blackhawks given that the team is missing about 7-8 players due to injuries. The team is running on their hot goaltending and special teams, but without a solid game on 5-on-5 they won’t likely make the playoffs.

While the Blackhawks are obviously outperforming their expectations, the Nashville Predators are terribly underperforming. Just like the Blackhawks, their 5v5 has been one of the worst on the league, but unlike the Blackhawks their special teams weren’t good either, being at the bottom of the league by many metrics.

The Detroit Red Wings won their fourth game of the season yesterday, but still remain the second worst team in the league in point percentage (second only to the Ottawa Senators). It’s still a long way until the Red Wings can become a playoff team again.

Lightning Links

The Lightning defeated the Panthers without both Anthony Cirelli and Steven Stamkos [Raw Charge]

The Tampa Bay Lightning were put in a very extremely uncomfortable position before the start of tonight’s game due to losing two of their players, but managed to defeat the Florida Panthers, 6-1, despite it all. Anthony Cirelli suffered an injury during Thursday’s game against the Florida Panthers and is week-to-week according to the team. Steven Stamkos missed the game on Thursday night due to a lower body injury, and was placed on the NHL’s COVID protocol list a day later.

Gemel Smith recorded two assists and was one of the best players on the ice, despite playing just about 10 minutes. In his postgame interview he reflected on his first official game in almost a year.

Anthony Cirelli is week-to-week with an upper-body injury and will be reevaluated when the team will return to Tampa.

The Syracuse Crunch almost completed a comeback after trailing 1-3 to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins by the third period, but were still defeated 4-5.

The Orlando Solar Bears defeated the Greenvilje Swamp Rabbits 5-0.

Hockey News

The Ottawa Senators traded former Lightning player Cedric Paquette and Alex Galchenyuk to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Ryan Dzingel.

The Edmonton Oilers have placed forward James Neal on waivers following the release of Jesse Puljujarvi from the Covid Protocol Related Absence list.

Following a poor start of the season, the Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini admitted that he has no plans to make changes in their leadership group.

The New Jersey Devils reportedly will be back to practice next Monday for the first time since end of January.