It's early, but the 2013-14 NHL season has already offered some tantalizing stories of success so far. Alexander Steen is setting the world ablaze. The Colorado Avalanche are looking like Stanley Cup contenders. Alex Ovechkin is playing some of his best hockey.
Oh, and the Tampa Bay Lightning are 12-4-0, atop the Eastern Conference standings after a 3-2 overtime win in Detroit on Saturday.
It's easy to see why most of the league has overlooked the Bolts. Just a few months ago, they were picking third overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, coming off a dismal season in which coach Guy Boucher was fired amidst rumors the veterans had given up on the system.
Cooper is already beloved by his team. The whole "swap out a tough coach for a players coach" strategy is occasionally derided, but it seems to have worked in Tampa Bay.
He's a very approachable coach," Mark Barberio, another AHL alum, said. "I guess you can call him a player's coach. He walks that fine line between being respectful with the players and easy to talk to, but at the same time he has the guys' respect. Guys play really hard for him. He's a winner. He loves to win and it rubs off on the guys."
Filppula has six goals and 12 points in 15 games. Stamkos leads the league in goals and points. They're getting great contributions from the likes of Alex Killorn (12 points) and Teddy Purcell (10 points). It's a much more balanced, nuanced attack than they've featured in years.
The Lightning have always been among the league leaders in goals per game, but now they're stopping them too. Goalie Ben Bishop had another sparkling game on Saturday and now leads the league with 11 wins. Defenseman Victor Hedman is coming into his own, as is Radko Gudas and Matthew Carle.
This is a team that is coming into its own after a tough season. The Lightening have won seven of their last eight games. It might just be a hot streak, but Jon Cooper has them believing it's something more.
"We're proving," center Steven Stamkos said, "that we're for real."