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This Week's Lightning Action: Go West, Young Men

Ah, the west coast road trip: friend of the insomniac hockey fan, foe of the sportswriter on a deadline (no worries here at SB Nation Tampa Bay; we're open 'round the clock, like Wal Mart). The Lightning (7-2-1, 1st, Southeast division) will spend the week, after extended time off for rest and relaxation in Phoenix following Saturday's 3-0 win over the Coyotes, wearing the white uniforms for three games in California.

The Western Conference is generally considered to be the stronger of the two in the NHL right now. While it's too early to see much disparity in terms of standings points yet, last year Western teams accumulated 1414 total points compared to 1347 by Eastern teams. The point totals of four of the eight teams to qualify for the Eastern Conference playoffs last year wouldn't have been enough to qualify for the Western Conference tournament.

None of that probably matters much to the Lightning, who have been fantastic on the road so far this season, having lost only one game. Steven Stamkos has led the way with his league leading 19 points (9 goals, 10 assists) while Marty St. Louis is off to a solid start as well, with 5 goals and 7 assists to his credit. The Lightning have benefited from outstanding play from it's fourth line of Nate Thompson, Adam Hall and Dana Tyrell, with coach Guy Boucher often starting the game with that line to establish tempo. In the net, the platoon of Mike Smith and Dan Ellis has worked well with Ellis currently on a hot streak. Since relieving Smith early in the Pittsburgh game last week, he's faced 47 shots without surrendering a goal (24 in the win against the Penguins and 23 in the shutout of the Coyotes). Special teams have also performed well for the Bolts, with both the power play and tyhe penalty kill ranked near the top in the NHL (23.9, 4th and 90.7, 3rd respectively). It's all added up to the Lightning ending the first month of the season with 15 points, in 1st place in the Southeast division and tied with the Montreal Canadiens for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

First up will be the Anaheim Ducks (4-7-1, 5th, Pacific division). The Ducks are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games and have lost 2 in a row. They're paced offensively by Ryan Getzlaf who has 4 goals and 11 assists while Jonas Hiller is their primary netminder. Hiller has a 3.13 goals against average and a save percentage of .916. 

The next night, the Bolts face the Los Angeles Kings (8-3-0, 1st, Pacific division). the Kings currently boast the best record in the NHL and this, like the game against the Penguins last week in Tampa, will be considered a measurement of just how good Tampa Bay really is. The Kings get offense from Justin Williams and Jack Johnson but the key to their success so far has been the goaltending of Jonathan Quick. Quick has 7 of their 8 wins with a 1.84 goals against average and a save percentage of .936.

After a day off, the Lightning head north to face the San Jose Sharks (5-3-1, 3rd, Pacific division). The Sharks stumbled out of the starting gate, losing 3 of their first 4 games but have since won 4 of their last 5 and are beginning to climb in the standings. The Sharks rely on Joe Thornton for offense, as he leads the team in goals (5) and assists (10) and have turned to former Bolt Antero Niitymaki in goal. Niitymaki has been impressive so far, posting 4 wins with a goals against average of 1.88 and a save percentage of .929.

Photographs by, thelastminute, turtlemom nancy , fesek, kthypryn, justinwright, sue_elias, pointnshoot, and scrapstothefuture used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.