The Tampa Bay Lightning are playing fairly good hockey to start the season. They are off to a franchise-best 7-1-1 start and sit atop the Eastern Conference standings. Individually, several players are off to career starts as well, most notably Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.
On Monday, the NHL recognized their play by naming Stamkos the first star of the week and Kucherov the second star. San Jose forward Logan Couture prevented the sweep as he took home third star honors (although a case could have been made for Andrei Vasilevskiy). It’s the first time two players from the same team have been named the first and second star in the same week since Jimmy Howard and Henrik Zetterberg accomplished the feat in April of 2013.
For Stamkos, the award has to be especially rewarding considering the rehab hell he has gone through over the last year. He earned the honors by putting up an impressive 11 points (2 goals, 9 assists) over four games. He had multiple points in every game culminating with a 1 goal, 3 assist performance over Pittsburgh.
Amazingly, this is the first time in three years that Stamkos has received a star of the week award, having last received the third star for his play during the week of October 20th, 2014. To put that in context, prior to this week, Ryan Callahan has been named star of the week more times than the captain (second stars for the weeks of December 1, 2014 and February 29, 2016).
It’s still too early to proclaim that Stamkos is “back”. His injury happened less than a year ago and by all accounts he won’t be 100% for another couple of months. Which is pretty scary because an 85% Stamkos is pretty darn good. Despite his dramatic increase in assists he isn’t sacrificing his shots.He is still averaging 3.33 shots per game which is in line with his career average of 3.20. The goals will start coming, for now he’s content with feeding the hot hand.
The hot hand being Kucherov. The former 40-goal scorer is no stranger to these press releases. Last season, the Russian winger racked up three first stars of the week and a first star of the month. While Stamkos’ numbers are a bit out of line with his career performance, Kucherov earned the award by doing what he does best—scoring goals. He did see his consecutive games with a goal streak snapped, but still put the puck in the back of the net five times to bring his season total up to ten.
It’s hard to imagine Kucherov having a better season than he had last year, but here we are. He has 10 goals in 9 games, well ahead of last season’s pace. In fact, he didn’t score his 10th goal until the Lightning’s 24th game last season. Surprisingly, it hasn’t been on the man-advantage where he’s racked up most of his tallies. Only 2 of his 10 goals have come on the power play. That bodes well for sustained success over the season.
If this line stays healthy, there is a great chance that there will be several more awards in their future. They have developed that elusive, hard to measure quality known as chemistry. Along with Vlad Namestnikov (who had 5 points of his own over the last week) this is the line that is driving the Lightning’s success.
This is the Lightning offense that fans were envisioning last year. Kucherov is continuing to evolve into one of the best goal-scorers in the league (and starting to get some national attention) while Stamkos is showing that he can dish the puck as well as shoot it.