The storm continues with Tampa Bay Lightning hockey
Ten days ago I wrote my shocked and impressed piece about where the Tampa Bay Lightning stand in mid-February: 92 points in 59 games played.
Ten days later, five more games in the books and the Bolts took every flippin’ one of them. 102 points in 64 games played. There’s more worth noting in that in franchise achievement:
- 49 wins are one shy of the team record of 50, achieved in 2014-15
- 252 goals-for on the season is four more than the Stanley Cup Champion 2003-04 Lightning team and 10 shy of the 2014-15 team.
- The point-percentage of the club is now a startling .797
- The simplified win-percentage is .766
- The club has gone 12-0-2 in February with one game left to be played
To say the 2018-19 Lightning team is setting club records and league-wide feats is an understatement. And I haven’t hailed any individual player in write-ups since I commended Louis Domingue for stepping in admirably in the time Andrei Vasilevskiy was out of the lineup!
Nikita Kucherov is having an oh-my-God season on the top line with Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point. Excuse me, Tampa Bay Times sports? It beats the shit out of Jameis Winston as
Kucherov’s 104 points stand in the league at current is 10 points ahead of 2nd place league scoring leader Patrick Kane. He’s putting on one hell of a feat of strength here!
It’s not just Kuch’s productivity on the top-line that’s paying dividends for Tampa Bay. Brayden Point is 7th in the NHL with 80 to his name (36 goals, 44 assists) ) and Steven Stamkos is 9th with 77 points (33 goals, 44 assists). Point has been in the hunt for the NHL goal-scoring lead through the season too. He’s currently 6th in the league, 8 goals behind leader Alex Ovechkin’s 44.
These are numbers achieved with 18 games left to be played. That’s just less than a quarter of the season.
Including Kucherov, Stamkos and Point, there are eight players on the Lightning with 10 or more goals. Only those lead three have over 30. Tyler Johnson is the only current player on the club with over 20 (22). Those lead-line players also dominate in the team point race; the 4th players in the points standings have 39 to their name (Johnson, Yanni Gourde and Victor Hedman).
You can look at that production drop-off as a sign there’s only one line in Tampa and that opponents simply need to shut it down to stifle the Bolts. Yet success has come to ice time and better opportunities do not prevent the likes of Johnson, Gourde, Alex Killorn, Mathieu Joseph, J.T Miller, Ondrej Palat and others from chipping in. Last night’s overtime win versus the New York Ranges exemplified that as Kucherov, Stamkos and Point were not goal-scorers (though they did contributed where needed the most)
The Lightning close out February tonight against the Boston Bruins [author note: I botched up and had the Buffalo Sabres listed originally]. The Bruins are in 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, a single point ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the division standings (and a good clip behind the Bolts). They’re also situated 2nd overall in the Eastern Conference and stand 3rd overall in the NHL. To say Tampa Bay has a capable opponent tonight is putting it lightly. Add the flip-side of back-to-back games factor in and it makes tonight’s game a bigger challenge.
Oh, there’s also the scary and impressive factor that adds to the challenge of tonight: The Lightning has not lost a game in 3 weeks and hasn’t lost a regulation game in a month. Keep that in mind going into the last month of the season: you can’t win’em all and a team being at the very top of the NHL makes that club a bigger target for opponents to try to take down. That’s what to expect tonight at TD Garden.
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