Vincent Lecavalier

Appreciating Stamkos’ underrated career at 400 goals

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Calling Steven Stamkos “underrated” never really feels right, but you might argue that his greatness is “too easily forgotten.”

Maybe you can chalk it up to Alex Ovechkin‘s even-more-impressive goal-scoring pyrotechnics, or perhaps to some mid-career injuries that diluted some of his career peaks, but either way, Stamkos’ career achievements can sneak up on you.

Take scoring 400 goals, for example.

Stamkos hit that mark in his last game, and with Tuesday’s Lightning – Blues contest soon to air on NBCSN (livestream link), this seems like a great time to consider what we’ve seen from Stamkos, and what else we might see going forward.

Rare company

Stamkos didn’t just hit 400 goals in Tampa’s Nov. 16 loss to the Winnipeg Jets; he also did it before age 30 (he’ll turn 3-0 on Feb. 7). Less than 20 players have reached 400 goals before age 30.

He’s one of only nine active players to hit 400, and did so the second-quickest among those nine, managing the feat in just 763 games. (Alex Ovechkin is first, getting there, somehow, in just 634 GP). Stamkos is also only the 98th player to reach 400+ goals, period.

Stamkos’ .52 goals-per-game average places him at 16th all-time among players with at least 300 games played, by Hockey Reference’s measures. That average is higher than the likes of Guy Lafleur (.50) and Eric Lindros (.49).

With 786 points in those 763 games, Stamkos ranks ninth among active players, and his 1.03 ppg average fittingly ties him with teammate Nikita Kucherov for sixth-best among active players.

Stamkos is a two-time Maurice Richard Trophy winner, and became a rare 60-goal scorer in 2011-12. Pretty lofty stuff.

And, naturally, it’s not all in the past.

Stamkos comes into Thursday’s game on a tear, having generated a five-game point streak (two goals, six assists). He already has 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 17 games this season. The 2018-19 season ranks among his best, too, with 45 goals and a career-high 98 points.

[COVERAGE OF BLUES-LIGHTNING BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Passing fancy

It’s a bit absurd to ding Childhood Stamkos for not having much of a shot, but it’s kind of an adorable way to illustrate the point that the Lightning forward has grown his game over the years — which might come in handy if his shot becomes slightly less terrifying.

“When he was a kid, he couldn’t shoot,” his father, Chris Stamkos, told The Athletic’s Joe Smith (sub required) in a great story about Stamkos’ shot. “He could skate and pass, but he couldn’t shoot.”

Stamkos’ former partner-in-crime Martin St. Louis praised Stamkos to Smith, stating that Stamkos isn’t just a “one-trick pony.”

There was some concern that Stamkos’ shot might have been diminishing, but his 45 goals quieted a lot of worries. Normally a 19.2 shooting percentage would make you think fluke, but with a career average of 16.9, maybe he still has time as a an elite sniper?

Some of this comes down to the inevitable drive to create plays for Nikita Kucherov. Of course Stamkos will start to get his playmaking to sniping ratio closer to 1:1 when he’s paired with a winger who’s arguably already even more dangerous than him, right?

After all, his shot volume is still there.

Overall, his partnership with Kucherov should be heartening for the Lightning when it comes to Stamkos’ future. If Stamkos does indeed become less dangerous at sniping as he passes 30 — a common thing for mortal snipers, aka those not named Ovechkin — then he can conceivably tweak the dials to set up Kucherov more. He’s found quite the player to grow old with, as Kucherov and Stamkos even fit each other as left and right-handed shots respectively. It’s the ideal mix for one-timers, basically making them the hockey equivalent of a couple where one spouse prefers drumstick chicken wings while the other digs the flats.

Evolving game

Again, Stamkos has found ways to improve his overall game, which is promising if his scoring does drop off.

Amusingly, Stamkos noted how low his faceoff rating was when EA Sports named him the cover star for NHL ’12, and we’ve seen his acumen in that area rise — probably coincidentally. Stamkos’ early career faceoff percentage was just 46.4. Stamkos improved gradually over the years, and has really took off in that area since 2015-16, winning 53.7 percent of his draws. This season, Stamkos has won a whopping 60 percent.

While the impact of faceoff dominance can be overblown, the point is really that Stamkos continues to refine his game. He won’t be mistaken for a Selke frontrunner anytime soon, but by becoming more well-rounded, Stamkos faces a strong chance of mitigating the aging process by bringing more to the table than just scoring.

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So, yeah, it can be easy to forget how special Stamkos is. Maybe winning that elusive Stanley Cup might shine that spotlight on him a bit more?

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.

The Buzzer: Big night for Coyotes — and Kucherov

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Three Stars

1. Nikita Kucherov

Let’s keep this one pretty simple, because we went deep on where Kucherov’s 115 points ranks in recent history here.

Narrowing the focus to Kucherov scoring two goals and two assists for four points in Thursday’s game is impressive enough. Kucherov grabbed the game-winning goal in this one, his second GWG in his last three games (both of those decisive goals came against Detroit, by the way).

Kucherov had a +1 rating in that tight win against the Red Wings, firing five shots on goal and ending up with just under 21 minutes (20:58) in that game. Masterful work by the clear frontrunner for the Hart Trophy.

2. Vinnie Hinostroza

While he’s been streaky in 2018-19, nights like these provide useful reminders of why a lot of stats-minded people were excited about Hinostroza’s potential after he was traded from Chicago.

For the first time in his career, the 24-year-old generated a hat trick, and Hinostroza added the flourish of making it a natural hat trick. Despite a modest 13:43 in ice time in Arizona’s win against Anaheim, Hinostroza fired eight SOG on his way to that hat trick.

Hinostroza now has 15 goals and 34 points in 61 games this season, and four goals in his last two contests. With the Wild losing in regulation and the Coyotes winning big, the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs suddenly look remarkably likely for Arizona.

They’re also only four points behind Vegas for third place in the Pacific, although that’s a big hurdle to leap with the Golden Knights also holding a game in hand.

3. Anders Nilsson

There were some very strong goalie performances beyond Nilsson on Thursday, with Darcy Kuemper stopping 37 out of 38 shots, Thomas Greiss making 33 out of 34 saves, and Casey DeSmith managing a 26-save shutout. There were also other worthy scoring performances, particularly by Brett Connolly (two goals, one assist) and Mark Scheifele (one goal, two assists).

But Nilsson managed an impressive 35-save shutout, boosting his 2018-19 save percentage from .908 to .915. He did so against a strong Blues team, too.

It doesn’t really do the lowly Senators a whole lot of good, but it might improve Nilsson’s chances of staying in the NHL in 2019-20, whether he remains with Ottawa or lands somewhere else.

Highlight of the Night

This got its own post, but it’s tough to top Zdeno Chara being strong enough to send Scheifele’s stick soaring, only for Scheifele to score a goal. Good times.

By the way, the lowlight was really a highlight, too, as Tyler Seguin was a good sport in absorbing grief for missing on an empty net. That got its own post as well.

Factoids

Scores

PIT 5 – BUF 0
NYI 2 – MTL 1
WAS 5 – PHI 2
OTT 2 – STL 0
TBL 5 – DET 4
DAL 4 – MIN 1
WIN 4 – BOS 3
ARI 6 – ANA 1
NSH 3 – LAK 1
FLA 4 – SJS 2

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.

Lightning’s Kucherov sets franchise point record

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It took Vincent Lecavalier a full 82 games to hit 108 points, which was a Tampa Bay Lightning record heading into Saturday night.

Nikita Kucherov needed just 68 games to match that earlier this week, and on Saturday night in game No. 69, Kucherov passed the man whose number is retired and hangs in the rafters at the Amalie Arena.

Of course, Kucherov entered his name at the top of the record book with his 32nd goal of the season.

He’d score his 33rd later in the game, which ended up being the game winner.

Kucherov continues to build on his career-year. His 110 points are obviously a career-high. So, too, are his 77 assists. He’s seven goals from matching his total of 40 from two years ago. The way his season is going, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him hit the career-high hat trick.

He’s got 13 more games to make it happen.


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

PHT Morning Skate: Clean slate for Lecavalier?

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

With a new head coach in Philadelphia, Vincent Lecavalier believes he might make the best out of a clean slate with the Flyers. (CSNPhilly.com)

Much like Mike Richards, Ryan O'Reilly‘s legal situation was essentially placed on hold, as his next court date looks to be on Oct. 1. For now? (Buffalo News)

Pondering the economic impact of Connor McDavid. (Sportsnet)

Brendan Shanahan shared some interesting thoughts on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ rebuild via Twitter. (#AskShanny)

Speaking of the Maple Leafs, Mats Sundin will be added to Legends Row.

The Ottawa Senators are getting the ball rolling with Daniel Alfredsson regarding a potential front office role. (Ottawa Citizen)

Defensemen who excel at preventing dangerous scoring chances. Apparently they don’t all have to be Zdeno Chara-good to be effective. (TSN)

An early look at Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby lining up together.

*Gasp* did Kessel not lose weight after all? (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Philadelphia Flyers ’15-16 Outlook

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The Philadelphia Flyers have built a great foundation, but it remains to be seen if their supporting cast is ready to help propel them into the playoffs.

Although it hasn’t always been the case, at this point it seems reasonable to bet on Steve Mason providing the Flyers with a strong presence between the pipes. At the same time, the chemistry that Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek have developed should result in the Flyers once again having one of the most effective top lines in the league. Even defensively, which tends to be seen as their weakest point, they have a solid anchor in Mark Streit.

A solid starting goaltender, great top line, and an effective offensive defenseman are a good start, but that in and of itself isn’t enough to make a serious contender, as the Flyers exemplified last season.

For example, a championship team typically has quite a bit of offensively depth, which Philadelphia didn’t possess in 2014-15. That problem could be largely addressed though if 24-year-old Brayden Schenn and 22-year-old Sean Couturier are able to make bigger contributions this season. There’s also a chance that newcomer Sam Gagner will prove to be an effective complimentary player or that Vincent Lecavalier or R.J. Umberger will bounce back.

Their defense is an even bigger question mark though. While it’s true that Philadelphia has a very promising group of defensive prospects, it’s entirely possible that none of them will be ready to make major contributions this season. That means that the Flyers might be relying in part on Michael Del Zotto, who has been inconsistent over the course of his career, to have a good season or that 32-year-old Yevgeni Medvedev will make a smooth transition from the KHL and at the very least prove to be a helpful stopgap measure.

There are certainly scenarios that can be painted in which this team bounces back and perhaps even enjoys a lengthy playoff run. However, with so many significant X-factors in play, Philadelphia will be interesting, but not necessarily successful in the short-term.