Jaromir Jagr

via Lightning Twitter

Lightning, Kucherov finish season making serious history

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Nikita Kucherov and the Tampa Bay Lightning could have let up, and rested, a long time ago.

Kucherov reached the 100-point mark in February, needing just 62 games to do so. The Lightning ridiculously clinched the Presidents’ Trophy on March 18.

For weeks, and really for all of the 2018-19 season, it hasn’t just been about playing well and winning games. This has been a season where the Lightning and their star winger have been chasing history. In defeating the Boston Bruins 6-3 on Saturday, the Lightning won their 62nd game, joining the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings as the only teams to ever do so in NHL history.

There’s beautiful symmetry, too, to the Lightning finishing with 128 standings points (62-16-4) while Kucherov ended what’s easily been the best season of his career with … yes, 128 points. He generated two points on Saturday, passing Alexander Mogilny’s 127 points as the most points scored in a single season by a Russian-born player.

(Kucherov’s hit certain milestones like 70 points while the Lightning crossed that same points barrier at times this season, so the player and the team have been in lockstep with each other in generating these incredible accomplishments.)

While the record-breaking point came via a less exciting assist on an empty-netter, Kucherov’s 127th point of the season was tremendous, even if – in very Kucherov fashion – he made it look easy. This video includes both points:

The headlines will be dominated by the Lightning tying that win mark, and Kucherov setting a new record for a Russian-born skater, and rightfully so. Still, sometimes you don’t really absorb the dominance of a player or team until you really stack up the numbers and milestones, so here are some other remarkable statistics from what has been one of the greatest runs in league history.

  • The Lightning’s 128 points stand as the fourth-most in NHL history.
  • As you might expect, the Lightning’s firepower stacks up with some of the best the league’s ever seen (especially if you account for this still being an era where goals are harder to come by). Tampa Bay finished the season with 325 goals, the highest total since the Penguins scored 362 in 1995-96.
  • They only allowed 222 goals against, putting the Lightning’s goal differential at a whopping +103. That’s the best since the Senators also managed a +103 differential back in 2005-06. (It’s easy to forget how explosive those Senators teams were, for a simple reason that should make Tampa Bay gulp: Ottawa couldn’t win a Stanley Cup.)
  • Sportsnet notes that the Lightning are the first team to manage a power-play percentage at 28 percent since the Flames did it way back in 1987-88.
  • Bryan Burns of the Lightning team website points out that the Lightning are also only the second team (joining the 2005-06 Red Wings) to reach at least 30 road wins. Tampa Bay finished with 30, one behind Detroit’s 31.

There are also some interesting notes about Kucherov, as well as Steven Stamkos.

  • Kucherov’s 87 assists tie Jaromir Jagr for the most assists in a single season by a winger. Jagr collected 87 back in 1995-96.
  • With 98 points, Steven Stamkos set a new career-high. He’s really been heating up lately, too, as he has 10 goals in as many games (finishing the season with 45).

Pretty amazing all around.

Of course, some will view all of this history made as hollow if the Lightning can’t win a Stanley Cup. That seems unfair, but it’s the way sports work.

If this run goes off the rails during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, some might wonder: was it worth it to chase history? Would it have been better to rest players instead, Kucherov included? On the other hand, the Bolts would likely counter that it’s better to go into a postseason playing sharp rather than risking rust.

However the matchups finish by the end of Saturday, the Lightning are set to face a rather difficult first-round matchup in the Hurricanes or Blue Jackets. Then again, looking at their numbers, maybe it doesn’t matter who they face — in any round?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Where Kucherov hitting 115 points fits in recent NHL history

Nikita Kucherov isn’t merely content to shred defenses and poor, helpless opposing goalies. He’s like a hot knife going through butter when it comes to the best seasons in recent NHL history, too.

With an impressive two-goal, two-assist night in the Lightning’s 5-4 win against the Red Wings on Thursday, Kucherov now has a blistering 115 points this season. Kucherov has done so in just 71 games, so if he maintains his current (about 1.6197 points-per-game) pace and plays all 82 games, he’d finish either with 132 or 133 in 2018-19.

Just look at this nonsense, as Kucherov unlocked the “destroy the Gatorade achievement” for one of his goals:

Even if Kucherov stopped here, he’d be in some absolutely elite company.

The last player to reach at least 115 points was Sidney Crosby, who managed 120 back in 2006-07. A year before that, Joe Thornton (125) outdueled Jaromir Jagr (123) in a remarkable race for the Art Ross/Hart Trophy in 2005-06.

But, again, if Kucherov stopped at 115, he’d have put together one of the best runs since the calendar hit 2000. Here’s a short list of the best seasons since 2000-01:

1. Joe Thornton, 125 in 2005-06
2. Jaromir Jagr, 123 in 2005-06
3. Jagr, 121 in 2000-01
4. Sidney Crosby, 120 in 2006-07
5. Joe Sakic, 118 in 2000-01
6. Kucherov, 115 in 2018-19
7. Thornton, 114 in 2006-07

Remarkable.

If Kucherov came in around 132 or 133 points as he’s projected, he’d top Jagr’s 127 points from 1998-99. You have to reach back to Mario Lemieux’s 161 points in 1995-96 to see a better total than that projected 132-133 points, and players have only hit 130+ on nine occasions (eight players, with Lemieux doing it twice) since 1992-93.

Kucherov’s 115 points ties with Eric Lindros’ 115 points from 1995-96 as the 25th-best total since 1992-93 already.

This is truly jaw-dropping stuff, and it increasingly feels like Kucherov might only be stopped by injuries, or maybe a decision to give him a breather before the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. His points break down as 35 goals and 80 assists, so he’s just two helpers away from being a point-per-game player based on assists alone. That’s the sort of stuff we expected from Gretzky.

With all due respect to Connor McDavid, the other player to hit 100 points already (again), it’s tough to imagine any other player threatening Kucherov’s grasp on a much-deserved MVP trophy this season. Interestingly, Kucherov’s hit this mark with substantial ice time (19:42 TOI average), but not nearly being asked to carry the same burden as other potential finalists in McDavid (23:01) and Patrick Kane (22:26).

It’s a truly special season, one where Kucherov’s built on already-strong work to hit another level. At 25, it’s not outrageous to picture him approaching this level again, although he’s setting the bar incredibly high.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Jagr, back from injuries, plays in Czech second-league game

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HAVIROV, Czech Republic (AP) — Jaromir Jagr is back again.

The Czech winger and 13-time NHL All-Star has recovered from a series of injuries that prevented him from playing for more than a year and appeared in a game Monday for the Kladno Knights, the hometown club he owns in the Czech Republic.

Jagr, 47, played on the top line alongside center Tomas Plekanec, another former NHL player.

He didn’t score in nearly 18 minutes but celebrated as Kladno, boosted by his presence, won 2-0 at Havirov in a Czech second-league game.

”Above all, I’m happy that I was finally able to play,” Jagr said. ”It’s not easy in my age just to train.”

Kladno, in fourth place, is seeking to reach the playoffs and qualify for the top league. It is 13 points behind first-place Jihlava but trails second-place Vsetin by three points with three more regular season games to go.

Jagr returned home after the Calgary Flames released the NHL’s second all-time leading point-scorer on Jan. 28, 2018, but he was injured in his fifth game for Kladno.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Nikita Kucherov somehow already has 71 points

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Even in the stunningly score-happy 2018-19 season, 71 points would be fantastic work for, you know, mere mortals.

After generating a goal and an assist in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 4-0 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, Nikita Kucherov already has that many points in just 43 games. Yeah.

Along with getting a primary assist on a Brayden Point goal, Kucherov connected for his 21st goal of the season with this tally:

To give some mind-boggling perspective, consider this: on Jan. 8, 2018, Kucherov topped all NHL scorers with 59 points in 42 games, seven points more than anyone else at that time. The slacker.

Kucherov isn’t just leading the NHL with those 71 points; he’s also rubbing elbows with some of the game’s greats. The league pointed out some staggering stats:

  • Kucherov is the first player to reach 70+ points in 43 games since Jaromir Jagr hit that mark in 38 contests, way back in 1999-2000. Former Lightning great Martin St. Louis managed to hit 70 in 53 contests back in 2006-07, which was the best pace between Jagr’s feat and Kucherov doing so on Tuesday.
  • His playmaking has been especially prolific. The NHL notes that Kucherov is the 10th player to generate at least 50 assists in 43 games. The most recent time that happened came from a scary 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins group of Jagr, Mario Lemieux, and Ron Francis. No big deal.

Kucherov’s 71 points in 43 games translates to about a 1.65-point-per-game pace. If he maintained that blistering productivity, Kucherov would author an absurd 135 point season. The 2017-18 campaign represents his career-high so far in the NHL, as he generated 100 points in 80 games.

Pretty zany stuff. For a deeper dive on Kucherov’s torrid last few months, check out this recent post from PHT’s Adam Gretz.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

After returning home, Jagr says he’s far from finished

AP
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KLADNO, Czech Republic (AP) — Average attendance at Benatky nad Jizerou ice hockey games is 276.

This Saturday, they’re moving arenas in the city of Liberec to a venue that seats 7,500.

Jaromir Jagr is back.

Because he hasn’t played since Dec. 31, the Calgary Flames released the NHL’s second all-time leading point-scorer and he arrived in his Czech Republic homeland this week.

Under a scoreboard reading ”Return of the king,” Jagr revealed on Thursday in his first news conference at the Kladno Knights, the hometown teams he owns, that he’s been dealing with a ligament injury in his right knee.

Still, he’s aiming to play for Kladno on Saturday against Benatky nad Jizerou.

His return has created a wave of euphoria among fans. Beside Benatky nad Jizerou moving arenas, other clubs in the league report their home matches against Kladno have been sold out for the rest of the season.

The 45-year-old Jagr is determined to finish a frustrating season on ice skates, not on a couch.

”I’m here in Kladno and my only and main goal is to recover, get back to form as soon as possible, to get healthy and help our team to reach the playoffs and try to advance to the (top Czech) league,” he said.

There’s a chance, if he gets healthy enough, that he could be recalled by Calgary for the NHL playoffs. But that was far from his thoughts, he said.

”My first goal is to get healthy to start training properly and be able to enjoy hockey, which I can’t do without training,” Jagr said. ”If I’m healthy and train, I know that I’ll be hungry to manage something.”

He saw a local doctor for treatment on his knee as he soon as he arrived on Wednesday, and said his first training on Thursday was painful.

”Today, I felt worse than I expected,” he said. ”I was told it should get better, but that it would be painful in the next few days.”

Due to his health problems, Jagr said he didn’t consider joining the Czech team in Pyeongchang for what would have been his sixth Olympics.

”Right now, I’m not ready, I’m not good, and I didn’t play many games, so not a chance,” he said.

Jagr was on the Czech team that won the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, the first games featuring NHL players. He also helped the Czechs win the bronze medal in Turin in 2006.

He said he hoped he can put what has happened so far this season behind him, and ”everything will get only better from now.”

”I always try to stay positive.”

Jagr is second to Wayne Gretzky on the NHL all-time points list with 1,921. He said he never cared about statistics, but admitted he hoped to join Gretzky on 2,000 points but it looked unrealistic now.

”Love, as I can see it, is the strongest energy on earth,” he said about the secret behind his long career. ”I love hockey all the time, I’ve always loved it, and had no problem to sacrifice anything to it. That’s the most important thing, a factor that helps you play as long as possible.”

But ”then,” he added, ”there’s the body.”