Question of the Week: What is Keeping the Lightning Afloat Without Stamkos?

The Tampa Bay Lightning have not been tearing up the NHL in the absence of star center Steven Stamkos, but neither have they fallen apart. How are they holding it together without their top sniper?

No one would blame you if you thought the Tampa Bay Lightning would experience a steep drop-off in performance after Steven Stamkos went down with a broken tibia during a game against the Boston Bruins on Veterans Day (that's Remembrance Day for our many Canadian visitors). And yes, the Lightning have had some struggles putting the biscuit in the basket since losing their offensive catalyst. Remember, Stamkos had 14 goals in 16 games prior to the game when he was injured, and he was tied for the NHL lead in goals and points at that time. Even after missing the last ten games, he still leads the Lightning in goals, and ranks second on the team in points.

But despite missing their star, the Lightning have carried on, and managed to hold their own in the playoff race in the admittedly weak Eastern Conference. With the exception of a pretty bad western road trip, they have managed, by and large, to keep their ship afloat. How are they doing it?

The day before the Lightning's valient 3-1 win over the Ottawa Senators, I put the question to the Raw Charge team: How are the Lightning managing to survive without Steven Stamkos?

Alexandra Akerman, Raw Charger contributor:

Syracuse.Note: I think Alexandra means that the Lightning are getting awesome help from the young players that have been developing with the Lightning's AHL affiliate team, the Syracuse Crunch. I think that's what she meant, but I also asked her about her favorite breakfast cereal. Her answer? Also Syracuse.

Clare Austin, Raw Charge contributor:

Yes, if you ignore 4 losses out of 9 games, the Lightning's record since Stamkos's injury is fantastic!

Let's face facts here. In some ways, the Lightning are doing about as well as they've done over the season as a whole. In other ways, they've fallen back.

•Before the injury, the Lightning took 70% of all possible points in their games. Afterwards, they've taken 50%.

•In the 9 games without Stamkos, they won 2 games by 3 or more goals and lost 4 by 3 or more goals. Before the injury, they won 3 decisively and lost 2 decisively.

•Depending on whether you're looking at Fenwick Close or Fenwick Tied, the Lightning took between 44% and 48% of all unblocked shot attempts in these nine games. In the first 17 games overall, the Lightning took between 50% and 51% of all unblocked shot attempts.

•Before, about 25% of the Lightning games were under 40% FFClose. After the injury 22% (2/9) were under 40% Close.

•5v5 shooting percentage is down from 9.3% after game 20 to 8.1% after game 26.

So have the Lightning "fallen off" since Stamkos went down? On balance, they have a little bit.

The wins are going to be harder to get without Stamkos, simply because he both shoots and scores at such high rates. But the Lightning are shooting more (up to 28 5v5 shots/60 vs.26 before the injury), and that will be necessary to keep up with the decreased scoring rate. In fact, they'll need to bring that average up to around 29.7 shots/60 to make up the difference between 9.3% (on 26 shots) and 8.1%. That's just to not lose ground. If you look at the Lightning's season as a whole, they're still in the bottom third of the league in how much they shoot, but they've moved from the bottom five to around 22nd-24th. They're still in the top half of the league in how little they allow other teams to shoot, though they've moved from 7th-10th to 10th-12th.

This is a team that is performing about as well as can be expected given the active roster they have: They're a .500 team that controls just at or below 50% of the shot attempts in their games and scores around one goal for every goal they give up at even strength. They're a good team. They are not a great team. The kids are good players for being young, but they are young. They're a team that will fight for their wins, and that's good because they'll have to. They'll have games where they dominate, but they'll still take nights off, because that's what they've been doing all year. And yes, they miss Steven Stamkos's contributions because he makes this a better team.

Clark Brooks, Raw Charge contributor:

Depth. The word that's been drummed into our heads since Steve Yzerman's first press conference as the Lightning's GM. Sure, we got sick of hearing it around the time Steve Downie was traded but this (and circumstances like it that will inevitably occur again) is where it's starting to pay off. You can't replace a Stamkos by throwing one guy at the problem and saying "Go be Stamkos", but with adequate depth, you can throw a bunch of guys at the problem and say "Go be like you are capable of going." Some of those guys will elevate their game while some won't quite measure up to the challenge, but at least you're not stuck with a solitary option. That's something this franchise has never had until now.

Cassie McClellan, Raw Charge contributor:

I give most of the credit to Jon Cooper. He's seen this decimated lineup thing before, but his last team was on the other end of it. The Lightning were calling up everyone and their dog to play for them when they had a rash of injuries two seasons ago, and Cooper didn't have many guys left in Norfolk. But he made do with what he had, and he still managed to keep that insane winning streak of theirs alive despite that. So he's experienced this sort of thing before, and he knows what to do. Well, outside of that western road swing, anyways.John Fontana, Raw Charge managing editor:

I don't like giving credit to one single entity when it's an organizational accomplishment to persevere (skill, depth, coaching, roster management)... But credit is due where it's due and Ben Bishop is a very large part of why the Bolts have not begun to sink without Stamkos.

In recent years, the team ha ben thisclose to being good and couldn't hold a lead and couldn't put faith in goal at all times. This season, Bishop has given the team in front of him faith that, on most nights, he'll stop the shots he has to and more. The team in front of him has also helped by being more defesnively minded, but in the end it comes back to Bishop. He can win close games (and he has) and that builds confidence with the roster.

Kyle Alexander, Raw Charge contributor:

Credit goes to the schedule. The Lightning have exactly one win away from the Tampa Bay Times Forum since November 11, when Stamkos went down with the broken leg. One. That was the next night (November 12) in Montreal, when it took a complete team effort and 45 shots to finally beat Carey Price. They were 0-4-0 on the swing out to the Pacific Division, and just recently loss in Columbus, too, getting shutout 1-0.

Look at this team's overall home/away split -- 10-3-0 at home, 6-7-1 away. It's been worse since the Stamkos injury -- 3-1 at home and 1-5 away.

I honestly don't think this team is playing very well right now, but they're still taking care of business at home and so far that's kept their heads above water.

How do you think the Lightning are doing without their star sniper? Let us know in the comments below.

Nolan Whyte is an occasional contributor to Raw Charge. He also blogs at Frozen Sheets Hockey and at Jerry the Bird. Follow him. @NolanWhyte