Lightning dominance by the numbers

6 Comments

The Tampa Bay Lightning have not only been the NHL’s most dominant team during the 2018-19 season, but they have a shot to be remembered as one of the all-time greatest single season teams the league has ever seen.

The enter Saturday’s game against the St. Louis Blues with 58 wins on the season, needing only four wins to match the record that was set by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings.

They are 12 points back of the 132 mark that was set by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens (in what was at the time an 80-game season).

Topping the point record would take at least a 6-0-1 record in their remaining seven games on top of what is currently a seven-game winning streak, so that would be asking quite a bit, especially given how difficult their remaining schedule is. But the wins mark is certainly well within their reach. Even if they do not get to either mark, there is no denying this has been one of the best regular season performances by any team in the history of the league.

With that in mind, here are some incredible numbers highlighting their dominance this season.

There is no one close to them in the standings

The Lightning have been so much better than every other team in the NHL this season that they wrapped up the Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s best record on March 18, when they still had nine games remaining on their schedule.

Entering play on Saturday they already have 120 points in the standings with still seven games to play.

For context on that, consider the following…

  • Since the league introduced the three-point game at the start of the 2005-06 season, only two teams have ever had more than 120 points in a full season — the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings, who finished with 124, and the 2009-10 Washington Capitals, who finished with 121. With a win on Saturday the Lightning would jump ahead of that Capitals team and close to within two points of the Red Wings. Keep in mind, again, that the Lightning still have seven games to play this season.
  • As it relates to the 2018-19 season, the Lightning are 21 points ahead of the next closest team in the league (a tie between the Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins). The 21-point gap between them and the second best team is the same as the gap between the second best team and the 18th best team in the league.
  • The obvious asterisk that you would put next to this team is that they play in the shootout era and have a chance to add up wins and points that teams prior to 2005-06 did not have the opportunity to register. It is a fair point, especially when we are comparing teams across different eras and the Lightning have won six games in shootouts this season. But even if you remove those six wins and six additional points, the Lightning would still be one of only 43 teams to have won at least 52 games in a season. Again, they still have seven games to play. Even if they only win three of them and *only* get to the 55-win mark, there were only eight teams prior to the shootout era that won that many games in a season.

They do not just win, they win big

Along with what is, by far, the best record in the NHL, the Lightning also have what is the league’s best goal-differential having already outscored their opponents by exactly 100 goals for the season.

Only one other team has a goal-differential better than plus-43 (the Calgary Flames at plus-56), and only three others (Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, and Winnipeg Jets) enter Saturday as better than plus-30.

In the history of the league only 31 teams have had a goal-differential of plus-100 or better through their first 75 games of the season, and only two teams (the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings and 2005-06 Ottawa Senators) have done it since 1989.

They have an offense from a different era

Their ability to score is like something out of the 1980s on both an individual and team level.

Let’s start with the latter, and take a look at their 3.89 goals per game average. That is 0.31 goals per game better than the next highest scoring team in the NHL.

That 3.89 per game average is the highest mark since the start of the 2005-06 season, and makes them only the third team during this era (the 2005-06 Ottawa Senators and 2009-10 Washington Capitals being the other two) that have averaged more than 3.80 goals per game.

Going as far back as 1990, only 19 teams have averaged more goals per game in a single season. Of the 18 teams ahead of them, 17 of them played between 1990 and 1994, and none of them played after 1996. They are one of only four teams in the top-40 in goals per game since then that played after 1994.

Keep in mind how different that era of offense was from today.

Average total goals per game in the NHL between 1990 and 1994: 7.04

Average total goals per game in the NHL in 2018-19: 5.98

Then we have their leading scorer, Nikita Kucherov, who has just absolutely lapped the field this season in the points race.

He has already topped the 80-assist and 120-point mark this season, something that only 20 other players in NHL history have accomplished, and none since 2006-07. It is only the sixth time it has been done since 1994. He still has seven games remaining this season.

Assuming he maintains his current pace, he is on track for 91 assists and 131 points this season. No one has topped 90 assists and 130 points in a season since Mario Lemieux in 1995-96, and it has only been done by eight different players in NHL history (Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey, Pat Lafontaine, Peter Stastny, Bobby Orr, Adam Oates, and Steve Yzerman). It is truly a season for the ages and should make him a slam-dunk MVP winner this season.

They also have a chance to be the first team since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins (Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, and Petr Nedved) to finish a season with three different 40-goal scorers.

Given their current pace, here is where Brayden Point (39 goals in 73 games), Steven Stamkos (38 goals in 75 games), and Nikita Kucherov (37 goals in 75 games) project to finish this season:

Point: 42 goals
Stamkos: 41 goals
Kucherov: 40 goals

Success is not anything new to this Lightning team.

They have been one of the NHL’s best teams since the 2014-15 season, reaching the Eastern Conference Final three times in four years, and once reaching the Stanley Cup Final (the two years they lost in the Final, they lost in Game 7). The one thing they have not been able to do is finish, allowing a series lead to slip away in each of those postseasons runs. That, combined with their regular season dominance, is almost certainly going to put Stanley Cup expectations on this team when the playoffs begin. Whether or not they are able to finish the job this season remains to be seen, but they have certainly put themselves in a position to be remembered as one of the greatest teams ever if they can pull it off.

Related: Lightning clinch Presidents’ Trophy for first time in franchise history

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.

Mitch Marner extends Maple Leafs-record points streak to 21 games

Mitch Marner
USA Today
0 Comments

TORONTO — Mitch Marner extended his franchise-record points streak to 21 games with a second-period goal and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Los Angeles Kings 5-0 on Thursday night.

Marner gave Toronto a 4-0 lead with his 11th goal of the season, scoring on a slap shot after a Los Angeles turnover inside its blue line.

Marner became the 10th player in the past 35 years to string together a streak of 21 or more games. He has 10 goals and 16 assists during the run.

Auston Matthews, Pierre Engvall, David Kampf and William Nylander also scored for Toronto. Ilya Samsonov made 29 saves for his first shutout with the Maple Leafs and the seventh of his career.

Toronto has won seven of eight to improve to 17-5-6.

Los Angeles dropped to 14-11-4 with its seventh loss in 10 games. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick made 36 saves.

Penguins’ Kris Letang returns to practice 10 days after stroke

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang returned to practice with his teammates just 10 days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

The 35-year-old Letang remains out indefinitely, with the club describing him as “day to day.”

Letang said he felt “pretty good” after being greeted by stick taps from his teammates when he skated onto the ice at the team’s practice facility. Still, the married father of two called the experience “scary,” particularly for his family.

“My kids, they don’t care if I’m a hockey player or not,” he said. “They care about having a dad. Same with my wife. She could care less about hockey. She knows there’s so much more. After hockey, there’s a long time and you want to be able to enjoy those moments with your family, with your kids.”

Letang missed more than two months in 2014 after his first stroke, which was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. The condition also led to the second stroke, which Letang suffered on Nov. 28 after dealing with a series of debilitating headaches.

This time, the symptoms have resolved themselves much more quickly, according to team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas, who described this stroke as “smaller” than the one Letang endured in 2014.

Letang began skating on his own just two days after the diagnosis and was cleared to return to practice on Thursday though both Letang and Vyas stressed they are in no rush for him to play in games.

“We don’t think this is accelerated in any way,” Vyas said. “We are taking all the right precautions to make sure that it is safe to go out and play and when that time comes we’ll let him go back to playing his sport.”

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said it was a “relief” to see Letang back at work.

“It’s a great visual that he’s making progress,” Sullivan said. “Our medical team that has monitored him extremely closely feels comfortable with some of the progress that he’s making and the steps he’s taken. Everyone was excited for him to join the group.”

Letang signed a six-year contract extension over the summer that will carry him into his 40s if he decides to play that long. Vyas said the data around strokes is “evolving” though it is unclear if Letang is now more susceptible to having additional strokes now that he’s had a second one.

The six-time All-Star is cautious but optimistic.

“We’ve been through this,” Letang said. “Me and Dharmesh have a clear understanding that we’re going to take all the time we need and make sure the research is possible and it’s no danger for me to keep going.”

The Penguins are 8-1-1 over their last 10 games and have won three straight heading into a home-and-home series with the Sabres. They’re also eager to have Letang’s familiar No. 58 back in the lineup, but only when he’s ready.

“He’s been here for a long time and his experience and everything that he brings on and off the ice, the way he competes (is important),” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “But I think in the (locker) room, (he has) poise and (he’s) somebody who’s been around a long time and whose experience you feel when he’s around.”

Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

buffalo sabres
Russell LaBounty/USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

“It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

“That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

“We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

STREAKING

Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

UP NEXT

Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

washington capitals
Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

UP NEXT

Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.