Kucherov, Vasilevskiy lead Lightning clinic against Blue Jackets

2 Comments

Here’s some homework: find a superlative that hasn’t been mentioned in the same breath as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s success this season.

Go ahead, we’ll wait…

The class of the NHL was dishing out harsh lessons once again on Monday night, putting on a clinic against the Columbus Blue Jackets — a good hockey team, by all accounts — who were completely muzzled by the NHL’s best team in a 5-1 loss on NBCSN.

No team sucks the soul out of an opponent quite like the Lightning. No goalie steals their will away like Andrei Vasilevskiy. No one demoralizes defenses like Nikita Kucherov.

Is it even in question anymore of who the Vezina will be handed to in June, or the Hart at this point, too?

In Kucherov’s case, you might as well give the Art Ross now, as well. He entered the game with 94 points in 59 games and exited with 99 in 60 after an incredible five-point night.

‘Kuch’ scored twice in the first period, both silky smooth goals, set up Steven Stamkos on the power play in the second period, and then provided both primary assists on Brayden Point‘s 34-second brace in to begin in third.

Vasilevskiy can barely be scored on these days after he made 39 saves in Tampa’s sixth straight win.

The 24-year-old ‘tender came within 1:45 of his third straight shutout. He showed no love for the Dallas Stars in a 32-save blanking on Valentine’s Day last Thursday and then put up a 20-save performance against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.

The Russian once again looked calm and clinical in Monday’s win, much like he’s done all season.

The Blue Jackets came into the game on fire, winning five of their past six to move into third in the Metropolitan Division (tied with Pittsburgh). The Blue Jackets were 0-for-4 on the power play, including a dismal four-minute stretch in the third after Kucherov clipped Seth Jones in the face with a high stick.

Both teams play again on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, while winning isn’t a concern after Tampa took it’s 45th ‘W’ of the season on Monday, what will be of some concern heading forward for the Lightning is the status of Victor Hedman, who didn’t emerge for the second period and was ruled out by the team with a lower-body injury.

Jon Cooper told NBC’s Pierre McGuire during the telecast that he didn’t think Hedman’s knock was a serious one. Time will tell on that, however.

Speaking of McGuire… he came within inches of getting drilled by an errant puck during the game. What an incredible angle.


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

WATCH LIVE: Lightning face off against Blue Jackets on NBCSN

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Lightning have won five straight games and have done so in dominant fashion. They’ve scored five-plus goals in four of the five wins, and have posted back-to-back shutouts, last allowing a goal in their 6-3 win over the Calgary Flames on Feb. 12. Tampa is 7-0-2 in the month of February (last regulation loss – Jan. 30 – lost 4-2 at PIT).

With 92 points, the Lightning occupy first place in the NHL, and are 15 points ahead of the Flames and San Jose Sharks (77 points) for most in the league. They’ve been in first place in the NHL since Nov. 29 and are looking to capture the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time in franchise history. They are currently on pace to win 61 games this season, which would be one shy of the NHL record (set by the Detroit Red Wings in 1995-96 – 62 wins).

Columbus beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 on the road on Saturday, their fifth win in the last six games (5-1-0 record). This stretch of winning follows a five-game losing streak from Jan. 18 – Feb. 2 (all in regulation). Sergei Bobrovsky has led the way, starting all six games (5-1-0 record) with .924 SV% and 2.17 GAA.

Artemi Panarin, who leads Columbus with 67 points, scored tiwce goals in Saturday’s win against the Blackhawks. He now has four goals in the last four games and has recorded 22 pts (11G-11A) in his last 15 games.

While Panarin leads Columbus in points, it’s Cam Atkinson that leads the team with 32 goals, his second career season with 30-plus goals. He’s got 12 points (eight goals) in his last 13 games, including three goals in the last four games, and is averaging a point per game this season (32G-23A; 55 points in 55 games this season).

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Tampa Bay Lightning at Columbus Blue Jackets
Where: Nationwide Arena
When: Monday, Feb. 18, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Lightning-Blue Jackets stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING
Ondrej PalatSteven StamkosTyler Johnson
Yanni GourdeBrayden PointNikita Kucherov
Alex KillornAnthony CirelliJ.T. Miller
Adam ErneCedric PaquetteMathieu Joseph

Victor HedmanDan Girardi
Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak
Braydon CoburnMikhail Sergachev

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

BLUE JACKETS
Artemi Panarin – Pierre-Luc Dubois – Cam Atkinson
Nick FolignoBoone JennerJosh Anderson
Eric Robinson – Alexander WennbergOliver Bjorkstrand
Kole Sherwood – Riley NashLukas Sedlak

Ryan MurraySeth Jones
Zach WerenskiDavid Savard
Scott HarringtonMarkus Nutivaara

Starting goalie: Sergei Bobrovsky

John Forslund (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Patrick Sharp and Anson Carter.

NHL on NBCSN: Dominant Lightning still have chip on their shoulder

2 Comments

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Lightning have put together an incredible season thus far. How great have they been? Well, just take a look at the league standings. Through 59 games, the Bolts have accumulated 92 points. That puts them 15 points ahead of the Calgary Flames, who are the second-best team in the NHL right now.

If you were expecting the Lightning to slow down with such a big lead, you were mistaken. Tampa Bay still hasn’t dropped a game in regulation this month, as they’re in the middle of a 7-0-2 stretch in the month February. And it’s not like they’re beating up on bad teams, either.

They’ve taken down the Islanders, who are the best team in the Metropolitan Division, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars and Montreal Canadiens over the last three weeks.

How do they stay motivated with a such a big lead in the standings? Clearly, they’re being fuelled by their lack of Stanley Cup Championships.

“We have a chip on our shoulder,” Steven Stamkos said, per USA Today. “I’m sure there are a lot of teams that would be happy to go to a Stanley Cup Final and three of the last four Eastern Conference Finals. That’s tough to do. But with the expectations being so high for our group, we came into this year thinking this was our year, our turn.”

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Here’s how good they’ve been in 2018-19:

• They have a plus-73 goal differential. The Maple Leafs are second in that category and they’re at plus-42.

Nikita Kucherov has 94 points in 59 games. He’s six away from setting a new career high. Oh, and Patrick Kane is second in scoring this season (87 points in 58 games).

• The Lightning have three players in the top nine when it comes to scoring. Kucherov, Brayden Point (75 points in 58 games) and Steven Stamkos (71 points in 59 games). Only Colorado has more than one.

• Tampa has the best power play in the NHL. They have a success rate of 29.7 percent. The Bruins are 3.2 percent away from the Lightning in this category.

• Their penalty kill is ranked second in the league at 84.6 percent. Only Arizona (85.2 percent) is ahead of them.

All impressive totals, right? So let’s take a look at the advanced numbers, too (all stats via Natural Stat Trick):

• The Lightning are eighth in CF% at 51.95 percent. San Jose, Carolina, Vegas, Montreal, Nashville, Boston and Calgary are all ahead of them.

• When it comes to scoring chances, they have a 53.16 percent share of those opportunities this season. Only Vegas, Carolina, San Jose and Minnesota have a bigger share of the scoring chances.

• When it comes to high-danger scoring, as you’d imagine, the Lightning find themselves with the sixth-highest percentage in that category.

The Lightning have been dominant all year and now they just have to hope that they can stay healthy before the start of the playoffs.

John Forslund (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Patrick Sharp and Anson Carter.

MORE: What should Lightning add at trade deadline?

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

What should Lightning add before deadline?

8 Comments

There’s no such thing as a perfect team in the NHL, but the Tampa Bay Lightning are as close as it gets. The Bolts are blessed with names like Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman, Andrei Vasilevskiy and many others. So, what should the top team in the NHL add before the February 25th trade deadline?

Before we start throwing names around, it’s important to realize that the Lightning currently have their own first-round draft pick in 2019, but they can’t use it as a trade chip. As part of last year’s deadline-day deal with the New York Rangers that involved McDonagh and J.T. Miller, Tampa sent a conditional second-rounder in 2019 that could become a first-rounder if they win the Stanley Cup. Basically, the Lightning have to hold on to their first pick in case it needs to go to the Rangers this summer. Any trade involving the Lightning will not involve their first or second round picks.

Let’s start with the defense.

The Bolts have Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh as their top two defenders on the left side. That’s not too shabby. On the right side, they’re rolling with Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman. Sure, they could make a deal with a team like Carolina for Dougie Hamilton or Brett Pesce, but that will certainly cost them a quality forward that’s already on their roster. That’s unlikely.

So, instead, they could opt to use a mid-round pick to land themselves a veteran that could step into the lineup in case of injury. Erik Cernak and Jan Rutta are the depth right-handed defensemen on the team right now, but neither one has much experience in the postseason.

It’s possible that Julien BriseBois could opt for a veteran like Ben Lovejoy, who’s on an expiring contract in New Jersey. The 34-year-old has playoff experience (he’s suited up in 63 postseason games and he won a Cup with the Penguins) and they can let him walk after the season when they’ll need the money to pay someone else. Adam McQauid could be an option here, too.

Red Wings blueliner Nick Jensen doesn’t have any playoff experience, but he could also fit the bill as an option for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The 28-year-old will also be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018-19 campaign. With the Wings out of the playoff picture, they could just decide to accumulate an additional asset for a free agent.

So a right-handed defenseman could be an option.

How about another depth center, too?

Sticking with this Red Wings theme. How about Luke Glendening? Tampa’s division rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs, have already been linked to the speedy center, so why not add a good piece and prevent a team you might meet in the playoffs from getting better?

Glendening has two years remaining on his contract at a cap hit of $1.8 million. That’s a digestible number. Depending on what you’d be sending to Detroit in the trade, they might even be willing to eat some of the money left on his deal.

If they’re looking to upgrade the fourth line without being tied down by term, Blackhawks forward Marcus Kruger could be an interesting target. He’s in the final year of his contract.

The one thing you notice when looking at Tampa’s roster is that they don’t have to make a big splash to be considered a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. This is a really good team that has the ability to go all the way. Making a small tweak here or there could be enough. After all, they have a 13-point lead over the Winnipeg Jets, who are the second best team in the NHL right now.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

WATCH LIVE: Rangers battle Lightning on NBC

Getty Images

NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Saturday’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers. Regionalized coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Lightning and the Islanders – the top two teams in the East – faced off on Friday night, with Tampa Bay taking a 1-0 win in a shootout. The only puck that found the back of the net was Victor Hedman’s game-winning tally in the shootout. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 36 saves in his fourth shutout of the season. Tampa is now 4-0 in shootouts this season. Only the Rangers (5) have more shootout wins.

With 78 points, the Lightning occupy first place in the NHL, and are seen points ahead of the Flames (71 points) for most in the league. They have alternated wins and losses over the past seven games.

After a 4-3 win over the rival Devils on Thursday, the Rangers have won four of their last five games and sit eight points out of a playoff spot after playing their best hockey since November.

Despite their recent success, New York is expected to be sellers at the trade deadline for the second consecutive year. Last season, the Lightning were one of the primary beneficiaries acquiring Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller.

Perhaps the most likely asset to be traded by the Rangers this season is Mats Zuccarello, who is in the final year of his contract ($4.5M cap hit). Zuccarello has led the Rangers in points in each of the last three seasons, but is 31 years old and undersized at just 5-foot-8, 184 pounds. It is unlikely the Rangers offer him a long-term deal, thus making him trade bait.

Zuccarello has missed 14 games this season with groin and foot issues. But when he’s played, Zuccarello has been effective with 27 points (8G, 19A) in 36 games. He currently has a personal point streak of six games (4G, 8A).

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 8 P.M. ET – NBC]

What: Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Rangers
Where: Madison Square Garden
When: Saturday, Feb. 2, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
Live stream: You can watch the Lightning-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING

Ondrej PalatSteven StamkosYanni Gourde

Tyler JohnsonBrayden PointNikita Kucherov

Alex KillornAnthony Cirelli — J.T. Miller

Adam ErneCedric PaquetteRyan Callahan

Victor Hedman — Dan Girardi

Ryan McDonagh — Erik Cernak

Mikhail SergachevAnton Stralman

Starting goalie: Louis Dominque

RANGERS

Chris KreiderMika Zibanejad — Mats Zuccarello

Pavel BuchnevichKevin HayesJesper Fast

Filip ChytilRyan StromeVladislav Namestnikov

Cody McLeodBoo NievesJimmy Vesey

Marc StaalNeal Pionk

Brady SkjeiAdam McQuaid

Brendan SmithKevin Shattenkirk

Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist