Nikita Kucherov

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NHL ON NBCSN: Lightning, Blues square off in battle of NHL’s best

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues on Tuesday night, as the St. Louis Blues host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 8 p.m. ET. You can stream the game by clicking here.

The Lightning and Blue have consistently been two of the best teams in the NHL since opening night.

A healthy Tampa side has scored at will with a league-best 110 goals through 29 games and the Blues have been powered by Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn and the now-injured Jordan Schwartz. Both teams have the fire power, but they also have played some very stingy defense, thanks to goaltenders Andrei Vasilevskiy and Jake Allen.

The Blues enter Tuesday night’s game banged up and missing Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo, who was placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, so depth will be tested. Schenn’s production may also be affected as Schwartz has assisted on half of his 16 goals. And as Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic pointed out this morning, St. Louis averaged 3 goals per game with Schwartz and 2.36 goals when he wasn’t in the lineup.

[WATCH LIGHTNING-BLUES LIVE ON NBCSN]

Tampa hits the road following an undefeated four-game homestand. Their last road trip away from Amalie Arena ended with a 1-3-0 record and only seven total goals scored. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper won’t have last change to get his preferred matchups on the ice, so will he find himself splitting up Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos at times to spread out the offensive threat?

“We’ve done what we had to at home,” Cooper said via the Tampa Bay Times. “Now we have to do it on the road, and it’s much tougher with all the travel we have to do, especially where we are here. So, we have to learn from what we did on the road before, what we have to do to prepare, but this is a good way to jump-start that.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Byron nets hatty, Wedgewood blanks former team

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Players of the Night:

Paul Byron, Montreal Canadiens:

Byron notched his first career NHL hat trick as the Canadiens annihilated the Detroit Red Wings 10-1. He now has nine goals on the season, well on pace to eclipse his career-high of 22 he set last season. Bryon was claimed off waivers by the Canadiens from the Flames on the day before the 2015-16 began. He’s exceeded expectations, to say the least.

Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins:

How’s this for a replacement for Matt Murray? Two wins, one shutout, one goal allowed in 120 minutes of play. Jarry has been sensational since Murray went down with a lower-body injury and the Penguins are reaping the rewards.

Scott Wedgewood, Arizona Coyotes: 

Wedgewood stopped 26 shots from the New Jersey Devils en route to his second-career shutout against the team that he recorded his first with. The Devils had yet to have been shutout this year prior to Saturday.

Highlights of the Night:

Wedgewood did this to Stefan Noesen:

Byron’s hat trick goal came off a nice snipe:

Ryan Miller did his best Domink Hasek:

Viktor Arvidsson was instrumental in a pre-game proposal:

Streak-ender of the Night:

The Buffalo Sabres finally scored. Jason Pominville, mercifully, fired home in the third period against the Penguins, the first goal for the club since Nov. 24, some 233:19 of game time.

Factoids of the Night:

A couple from the night of destruction in Montreal:

Alex Ovechkin moved himself up the all-time goal-scoring list again. Ovechkin is tied with Nikita Kucherov, who scored twice on Saturday,  for the league-lead in goals at 19.

Tyler Seguin played quite a bit tonight:

MISC:

    • The St. Louis Blues have lost three straight and four of their last five after dropping a 2-1 overtime decision against the Minnesota Wild.
    • So close, yet so far: The Oilers had a 6-1 lead early in the third period only to watch it get cut to 6-5 as the Calgary Flames stormed back after a brutal start. Alas, the Oilers held on to win their sixth game in a row against their Battle of Alberta rivals.
    • Radek Faska has five goals in his past three games for the Dallas Stars.
    • Elliotte Friedman said on Hockey Night in Canada that there is a “sense and a hope” that the salary cap in the NHL could reach $80 million next season.
    • On the same broadcast, Friedman touched on what it would take for the Sabres to trade Evander Kane. The asking price, of course, is high. Friedman said the returns bigger than those of what the Winnipeg Jets got for Andrew Ladd (Marko Dano, 1st round and conditional picks) and the Arizona Coyotes got for Martin Hanzal and Ryan White (1st, 2nd, 4th round picks) should be expected.
    • Furthermore, the Los Angeles Kings are going to make pending UFA Drew Doughty a priority when it comes to inking him to a long-term extension.

Scores:

Bruins 3, Flyers 0

Wild 2, Blues 1 (OT)

Canucks 2, Leafs 1

Canadiens 10, Red Wings 1

Lightning 5, Sharks 2

Penguins 5, Sabres 1

Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 3

Hurricanes 3, Panthers 2 (OT)

Coyotes 5, Devils 0

Predators 3, Ducks 2 (SO)

Stars 3, Blackhawks 2 (SO)

Oilers 7, Flames 5


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

How many goals will Nikita Kucherov score this season?

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The Tampa Bay Lightning continued to roll on Thursday night with a dominating 5-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings. Leading the way was Nikita Kucherov with another three-point effort including his league-leading 16th goal of the season. He enters play on Friday with a three-goal lead over Alex Ovechkin for the top spot in the NHL and is of to one of the best starts to a season (at least as far as goal-scoring is concerned) in recent league history.

After scoring a career-high 40 goals a year ago (in only 74 games) he looks like he is destined to shatter that number this season, barring injury.

So what is his ceiling or goals this season? 45? 50? Maybe even 60?

Keep in mind this is an era where the 50-goal scorer is nearly extinct. Over the past 10 seasons only nine different players have scored at least 50 goals in a season. Only three have hit that mark since the start of the 2011-12 season. But we also haven’t really seen a player storm out of the gates quite like this. Not even Alex Ovechkin, the greatest goal scorer of this generation and one of the best to ever play in the NHL, has started a season with this many goals this far in.

According to the Hockey-Reference database, Kucherov is just the 20th player since the start of the 1987-88 season to score at least 16 goals in his team’s first 17 games of a season.

He is just the fourth player to do it since 1996. Two of the other three were Daniel Alfredsson and Simon Gagne during the 2005-06 season, the one year in the past two decades when goal-scoring across the league saw a significant spike, and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Alex Steen.

The rest of the players all did it during the run-and-gun late 1980s and early 1990s.

When looking at the list of previous players to score 16 goals in his team’s first 17 games all but one went on to score at least 30 goals. The one player that didn’t was Chris Kontos, finishing the 1992-93 season with 27.

Steen was the only other player on the list to not score at least 40, having scored 33 goals in 68 games.

That would have been a 39-goal pace over 82 games.

Twelve of them went on to score at least 50 goals, including some video game type numbers from the likes of Mario Lemieux, Brett Hull, Steve Yzerman and Bernie Nicholls in the late 80s and early 90s.

What stands out the most about Kucherov’s start, aside from the fact he is doing it in 2017-18 when players simply do not score goals like this, is the fact that he has one of the lowest shooting percentages (23.8) out of that group during the opening 17-game stretch. That number is a bit of a spike from his career average (15 percent) but it is still 17th in the league right now. So it’s not like it is all a luck driven run of success.

Along with a spike in shooting percentage Kucherov is also generating shots on goal at what would be a career-high rate, averaging 3.94 per game.

If he maintains a 23 percent shooting percentage the rest of the way he would score an additional 58 goals on top of what he has already scored. That is … probably not realistic, but is it entirely impossible? Over the past 10 years there have been four players (Brad Boyes, Loui Eriksson, Jason Spezza, Mark Scheifele) that have recorded at least 150 shots on goal in a season and finished with a shooting percentage higher than 23 percent.

At some point though that shooting percentage is going to drop down because, well, almost nobody is superhuman enough in today’s NHL to score that many goals with that sort of shot volume.

If he maintains a similar shot volume right over the remaining 65 games and simply shot at his normal career average (15 percent) that would still give him another 40 goals on top of what he has already scored this season. That would give him 57 goals, which would be the highest total in the NHL since Steven Stamkos scored 60 during the 2011-12 season.

If he only shot at 10 percent over the next 65 games (keep in mind the only time Kucherov shot lower than 14 percent in a season was his rookie season when he only appeared in 52 games) that would still be an additional 25 goals and give him 42 on the season. That total would have placed him second in the NHL a season ago, only two behind Sidney Crosby.

In other words, what we are looking at here with Kucherov this season is the potential for what could be one of the best goal-scoring seasons in recent NHL history.

Whether or not he can remain that sort of absurd pace over the next few months remains to be seen, but even if we see a slight regression he should still be in the driver’s seat to win his first goal-scoring crown, assuming he is able to stay healthy.

The Lightning look like the best team in the NHL right now and with Kucherov and Stamkos racking up points the way they are they have the two best offensive players in the league at the moment as well.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Zucker tricks Habs; Lightning remain unstoppable

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Players of the Night: Devan Dubnyk and Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild

The Wild pair were the main cogs in Minnesota’s 3-0 shutout of the Montreal Canadiens. Dubnyk did his job between the pipes stopping all 41 shots he faced for his 25th career shutout. Zucker, meanwhile, netted all three goals for his first career hat trick. Zucker has now scored the Wild’s last five goals.

Highlight of the Night:

Welcome back to the goal scoring column, Brian Boyle.

MISC:

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl once again teamed up to break another team’s spirits in overtime. Edmonton has now won back-to-back games for the first time this season.

Jaromir Jagr scored his first goal with the Calgary Flames and Johnny Gaudreau chipped in three points during a 6-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings.

Carter Hutton made 27 saves in regulation and overtime and stopped both Arizona shootout attempts during a 3-2 St. Louis Blues victory. Alex Pietrangelo scored his seventh goal of the season. The Blues have won 12 straight over the Coyotes.

• The Coyotes have not won in regulation in 18 games this season. Per the NHL, they’re one loss shy of tying the 1999 Calgary Flames’ dubious record.

• The Philadelphia Flyers got goals from Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier while Brian Elliott made 38 saves during a 3-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Giroux and Voracek each added a pair of assists.

• Chicago has not beaten the Flyers in the regular season in Philly in 14 meetings, dating back to Nov. 9, 1996.

Jakob Silfverberg scored twice 35 seconds apart early in the third period to power the Anaheim Ducks past the Vancouver Canucks 4-1. Rickard Rakell handed out three assists.

Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos scored in a span of 2:02 in the first period to power their way to a 5-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings. Kucherov and Stamkos combined for five points, with Kucherov potting his league-leading 16th goal of the season.

• Congrats to Oscar Fantenberg for scoring his first NHL goal.

• The Tampa power play is just unfair:

Factoid of the Night:

Scores:
Edmonton 3, New Jersey 2 (OT)
Philadelphia 3, Chicago 1
Minnesota 3, Montreal 0
St. Louis 3, Arizona 2 (SO)
Calgary 6, Detroit 3
Anaheim 4, Vancouver 1
Tampa Bay 5, Los Angeles 2

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy

Tampa Bay Lightning ’15-16 Outlook

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Tampa Bay’s mantra going into this summer might as well have been “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

It certainly seems that was Lightning GM Steve Yzerman’s philosophy as a trip to the Stanley Cup Final has led to a quiet offseason. At the same time, there is still the potential for organic, internal changes.

Forward Jonathan Drouin might find himself playing a bigger role next season after getting limited minutes in 2014-15 and barely participating in the playoffs. He has a ton of offensive upside as illustrated by his back-to-back 100-plus point seasons with the Halifax Mooseheads. If the 20-year-old forward can build off of his 32-point rookie campaign, then he will be complimenting an already deep offensive core.

At the same time, netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy’s rise last season has changed the dynamic of Tampa Bay’s goaltending. While Ben Bishop is still the team’s starter, Vasilevskiy should start pushing him for ice time. The potential is also there for a goaltending controversy should Bishop endure a sustained cold streak.

We might also see defenseman Slater Koekkoek earn a regular spot with the Lightning after playing in three contests with Tampa Bay in 2014-15. He was the 10th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and might become a significant threat with the puck and factor with the man advantage.

For the most part though, the status quo is expected to remain. Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, and Jason Garrison should once again lead Tampa Bay’s blueline. Stamkos remains the centerpiece of the offense while the hope is that the Triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat has another strong campaign.

The Lightning got a lot out of that core last season, which has earned them another chance to pursue a championship together.