Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning have ascended to the top of the Atlantic Division in the month of December by earning victories in eight out of nine games played. The Bolts have a one point advantage over the Carolina Hurricanes for the top spot, not only in the East, but in the league, and their .733 point percentage is the second best mark in the NHL.
On an individual level, captain Steven Stamkos has rediscovered the point producing ability that had been on full display prior to his injuries, and defenseman Victor Hedman is one of the top point-getting blue liners in the NHL this season. In goal, Andrei Vasilevskiy has posted the best save percentage and goals against average of his impressive career.
Clearly, things are going well for the Lightning, so why do they come in at number two? First, I would look to the players that left the franchise in the offseason. I said at the time, and I maintain now, that those losses will not be felt during the regular season, but they will be very noticeable in the playoffs. Pure talent can win most games in the regular season, but once the postseason arrives, you need impact players throughout the lineup, and that’s what Tampa Bay lost in players like Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman. The Bolts may not be impacted by those departures now, but at some point they will be.
In addition, this team has played a lot of playoff games over the last couple of seasons, which were condensed thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Eventually, that will catch up with the Lightning and will be part of the reason that the team is unable to win a third straight Stanley Cup championship, as it’s incredibly difficult to win back-to-back titles, let alone three in a row. The Bolts are dangerous for sure, but sooner or later they will lose, and the team that could make it happen sits at number one on this list.