For anybody who envisioned before the start of the season that after the first month the Lightning would be sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings, some might have thought that idea to be more of a hallucination.
But when the calendar rolled over to November, it proved to be no mirage as Tampa Bay finished the month with a 7-2-1 record, tied at 15 points with Montreal, but technically the Lightning hold the top spot for the month having played one fewer game.
So, after three straight years out of the playoffs and a complete overhaul of the organization from top to bottom, everyone should be surprised to see Tampa Bay at the top of the conference standings, right?
"No, because I knew we had a very good team in here,'' defenseman Pavel Kubina said. "You could tell in training camp and in the preseason games we were working on our new system, everybody was on the same page. But we are not satisfied with 7-2-1, we know we still have a lot of things to work on and we have been doing that. So we will get better.''History also suggests the team's hot start will result in home playoff games this spring. According to a note sent out by the league on Monday, only twice in the past 24 years have teams that were leading their conference at the end of October failed to make the postseason. Only the 1993-94 Philadelphia Flyers, which led the East with a 9-3 record in October, and the 1988-89 Toronto Maple Leafs, which led the Campbell Conference with an 8-4-1 record, missed the playoffs after leading their respective conferences.
But nobody is getting ahead of themselves by clearing building dates to accommodate a playoff run or printing postseason tickets. There are still 72 games and five months left to play.
"We just have to take things one game at a time, stick to the game plan we have put forth in front of us,'' defenseman Brett Clark said. "If we can do that, we know there are going to be ups and downs; it's just (a question of) how we deal with them.''Even with the quick jump out of the gates, new coach Guy Boucher there is room for improvement.
"I don't think anybody expected us to be there because of the new staff and players, and the one thing I heard is that it's going to take time; I even said it myself that it's going to take time,'' he said. "But it is taking time because we are not where I want the team to be and play yet.
"What's happening right now is nobody cares who gets the credit. When you have guys like Vinny (Lecavalier) doing the little details like blocking shots and playing great defense ... it creates this atmosphere of nobody caring who gets the credit and you find success that way. Everybody is contributing and everybody is playing the same way and that's where the success lies right now.''
While Boucher said injured left wing Simon Gagne has shown some improvements as he recovers from a stiff neck, they are still awaiting the results of additional testing done over the weekend. Gagne has not been ruled out from joining the team for any of the final three games on the West Coast, but Boucher said right now they are concentrating on those who are with the team.
Dominic Moore, who has missed the past two games with a groin injury, underwent an MRI on Monday to determine if there is any additional damage as he has not responded to treatment.
Defenseman Matt Smaby, meanwhile, was in a walking boot Monday, two days after suffering an ankle injury while playing a warm-up soccer game Saturday morning. An X-ray showed a slight fracture line in Smaby's right ankle, but team athletic trainer Tom Mulligan said the fracture is not a result of Saturday's injury, rather from a previous situation and the current injury is considered a sprain.
With the team banged up and Mattias Ohlund, who did not practice Monday for maintenance purposes, working his way back from a knee injury, Tampa Bay recalled defenseman Mathieu Roy from Norfolk of the American Hockey League. Roy was the last defenseman cut from training camp and has two goals, eight points and a plus-5 rating in nine games. He will join the team for practice on Tuesday and accompany the team for Wednesday's game in Anaheim.