So The Lightning puck-slapped the Atlanta Thrashers 6-2 tonight, meaning that for the first time in a while, they beat a team that they're supposed to beat. Stamkos got two goals to hit 40, Lecavalier got his third in two games, and newbie Teddy Purcell scored on a penalty shot. Pretty good, pretty good. And the team, for the first time in weeks, allowed fewer than five goals. Cheers! Well done.
This is a team we're supposed to beat. What teams are on that list? Well, looking only at the fifteen teams in the NHL's Eastern Conference, we can break it down like this:
There are the "A" teams: Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Washington, and Buffalo (mostly because of Ryan Miller).
There are a few "B+" teams: Philadelphia and Ottawa.
The "B" teams: Boston, Montreal, Atlanta, NY Rangers, and Tampa Bay.
And the "C" teams: Florida, NY Islanders, Carolina, and Toronto.
At different times a team can have a different grade. For example, there was a stretch where Philly was an easy "C" team (although they still kicked the hell out of the Bolts whenever their paths crossed). Ottawa has been an "A" team. Florida and the Islanders have been "B" squads.
When I say Tampa Bay is supposed to beat the other "B" teams, I mean that the Bolts have the potential, and obviously it should be their goal to at least be a "B+" team. Being an "A" team is out of reach this season, but being "B+" is not out of the question. You just have to beat the other "B" teams consistently. Tonight is a good example. 6-2 over another "B" team.
This coming week has games against Montreal, Toronto, and Washington. That's two teams we are "supposed to" beat, and one team we've beaten already this season and could beat again. But this "B" team will need to start bring its "A" game.
Or at least its "B+" game.