Crushed by injuries over the past month, the Tampa Bay Lightning have managed to stick around in the Eastern Conference playoff race in the month of March almost entirely because of the play of forward Nikita Kucherov.
On Saturday, the league announced that his performance was enough to make him the NHL’s No. 1 star of March.
From the NHL:
Kucherov paced the NHL with 12-10-22 in 14 games, and also led the League with six power-play goals, to power the Lightning (38-29-9, 85 points) to a 10-4-1 March. He collected at least one point in 11 of his 14 outings, highlighted by eight multi-point performances as well as a five-game streak to close the month (7-4-11). Kucherov also registered his third career hat trick March 23 at BOS and second career overtime goal March 24 at DET. The 23-year-old Maykop, Russia, native – who set a Lightning record for points in one calendar month – shares second place in the NHL with 38 goals and ranks sixth overall with 80 points through 68 games this season, both career highs. His 17 power-play goals, another career high, share the League lead.
As good as those two were, no player had a month quite like the one Kucherov had in Tampa Bay, recording 22 points in 14 games to help the Lightning stay afloat inthe standings after making several trades at the deadline and losing Tyler Johnson and a number of other forwards during the month.
The 22 points mean Kucherov had a hand (either scoring or assisting) in more than 51 percent of the team’s goals in the month of March.
The Lightning went 10-4-1 during the month and enter April three points back of a playoff spot.
Eric Lindros’ famed No. 88 retired in Philadelphia
No. 88 has always hung from the rafters in the minds of Philadelphia Flyers fans.
The organization seemed to revere it as well. No one but Eric Lindros has ever worn the number.
And on Thursday night in the City of Brotherly Love, those fans could finally see it with their own eyes.
The Big E’s famous No. 88 in Flyers orange and black was retired at Wells Fargo Center, raised to hang next to the names of Bernie Parent, Mark Howe, Barry Ashbee, Bill Barber and Bobby Clarke.
“Without any doubt, this is the highest honor the organization can bestow on one of its members,” said Flyers president Paul Holmgren, who addressed the packed house. “Take a look at the rafters, only five players out of 600 to have ever worn the orange and black, and now that number will be six.
“When we raise your number in a few moments, know you’re back where you belong, and this time, it’s forever.”
Moments earlier, Lindros stood at center ice, waving at the standing ovation that engulfed the arena that encircled him.
“Wow. Haha. This is crazy,” Lindros said, peering out into the sea of orange and black as he followed Holmgren at the center-ice podium.
“It’s no secret that when I left Philadelphia, it was under less than ideal circumstances,” Lindros said, crediting Holmgren and his wife Kina with helping him move.
Lindros sat out the entire 2000-01 season due to a contract dispute with Clarke and the organization.
Lindros was crushed by Scott Stevens in the playoffs in the previous season and was only cleared to play the following December. The Flyers had offered, and Lindros refused a two-way qualifying offer. Lindros, instead, wanted to be traded, with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs the preferred destination after his once-strong relationship with Clarke had deteriorated. Clarke refused to trade him at first, but finally did so in the following offseason, not to Toronto, but to the New York Rangers in the summer of 2001.
“Both, in their own ways, have taught me to move on, put in the past any differences of opinion, any hard feelings,” Lindros said. “It was time to remember the great moments I experienced here in Philadelphia, the friendships I’ve built in this great city and the respect I have for the fans of this team.”
Lindros was a member of the ‘Legion of Doom,’ a line that consisted of John LeClair and Mikael Renberg that dominated opponents and altered the game of hockey in the 1990s. Lindros acknowledged several people, including former general manager Russ Farwell, who brought Lindros, Mark Recchi and Rob Brind’Amour into the team and drafted Mikael Renberg.
Good to hear Lindros credit Russ Farwell for helping build his early Flyers teams. Farwell is the GM who traded for Lindros, but also Recchi and Brind'Amour, and drafted Renberg, among others
The mandatory off week for the Florida Panthers appears to have done wonders for injured goaltender Roberto Luongo.
The Panthers No. 1 netminder has “turned a corner” as he continues to rehab a lower-body injury, Panthers head coach Bob Boughner said on Thursday.
The Panthers practiced for the first time since their mandatory break on Thursday, and although Luongo is still on pace for a return early next month, the news was good to hear for a team nine points adrift of the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.
“I think he’s turned a corner a little bit,” Boughner told reporters after the team’s practice. “He’s showing some good improvement here in the last few days. We’re excited to hopefully get him back out on the ice during a practice at some upcoming point.”
Luongo hasn’t played since Dec. 4, when he was injured in a 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Islanders.
The news of Luongo’s pending return was probably a little music to the ears of James Reimer.
Reimer has started Florida’s past 16 games, posting an 8-6-2 record with .924 save percentage during that span, but ran into the break losing four of his previous five starts.
Still, Reimer has performed admirably in Luongo’s absence, as he bounced back from an unfavorable start to the season that saw Luongo regain the starter’s reins.
The Panthers will have five games in-hand on Pittsburgh Penguins, who entered Thursday occupying the final spot. They play the Los Angeles Kings live on NBCSN at 10 p.m. ET.
The Panthers return to action on Friday when they host the visiting Vegas Golden Knights.
Even so, frustration is building. In the last six games, they’ve only managed 12 goals (not counting shootouts). The Maple Leafs have lost six of their last eight games and haven’t won in regulation since Dec. 28.
Dry spells are going to come, but the heat is starting to rise on Mike Babcock’s lineup decisions.
“This is how I kind of look at it: I think they hired me to decide,” Babcock said on Wednesday. “So that’s kind of how I approach it … I’m just going to keep on keeping on. In your lifetime, you get to decide what you react to.”
This video has more from Babcock, including the veteran coach calling for the Maple Leafs to shoot more rather than trying to make the perfect play. It’s a nice supplement to more granular studies, like TSN’s Travis Yost’s deep dive on the Maple Leafs and icing (the unsavory infraction, not delicious frosting).
In the grand scheme of things, Babs should be commended for how he’s embraced this team’s young core, particularly in quickly acknowledging that Auston Matthews can do heavy lifting as far as deployment goes.
Still, people are getting frustrated with certain usage situations.
ESPN’s split stats allow you an opportunity to see who’s being used most often in January, this stretch in which Toronto’s scoring is really drying up.
Maybe you’d want Babcock to lean even more on Matthews (averaging 18:54 TOI this month, 18:38 on the season), but that’s a smaller quibble. People are most bothered by the reemergence of Roman Polak (17:02 per game in January) and Leo Komarov‘s frequent use (about a shift fewer than Matthews per game at 18:24 per night in January).
Komarov is getting two more minutes per game lately than Mitch Marner (16:16) and JVR (16:01). Combine that with low scoring, and yes, people are going to get frustrated.
Changes to the Leafs lineup that seem worth trying to me – first the forwards:
Move Marleau to C and play him with Hyman and Brown.
Move Kadri to the wing with Matthews and Nylander.
Play Komarov as 4C with Martin and whoever (Kapanen/Leivo/Soshnikov)
Toronto has stopped scoring, and their overall attack has been neutered for weeks. And what’s worse, it seems intentional. Every Babcock quote over the last couple months seems to be about “playing tight” and being more defensive, which apparently means sitting back and being fed in your own zone before ripping the puck up ice for a stretch pass (a.k.a Carlyle hockey) or getting it to the red and going for a dump-and-chase. The Leafs can’t seem to get any flow to their play when it comes to breaking out or using the neutral zone to create offense, and it’s concerning because it seems like a step back from last year. What’s even worse is that it’s so, so boring.
It’s that “intentional” part that’s interesting.
This ultimately comes down to a fascinating conundrum. The Leafs have some nice defensemen, but could use help in that area and probably lack a truly elite one, though Morgan Rielly is coming along nicely. There are some forwards with two-way ability, but no one demanding Selke bids, either.
Babcock’s goal is to get the most out of that group, so does that mean going for a high-stakes style like that of, say, the Penguins or Devils? Maybe that was the leaning for a bit, yet the charge now is that the Maple Leafs are trying to lower the number of events in their own end, which means playing a more conservative style overall.
With a reasonably comfortable grip on third place in the Atlantic Division, maybe Babcock is merely using this window to experiment? The ideal scenario could be to find the right mix of careful play and daring offense.
At least, that’s what would happen if things fall the right way.
Can Babcock figure this out – as he’s figured out many different alignments during his impressive career – or is this a case of ego and/or stubbornness lowering a team’s ceiling? There’s still time to figure this out, but it’s an interesting story to watch.
Even if the team itself isn’t always as fun as it once was.