The Tampa Bay Lightning are on fire, with a 9-1-1 record to start the season. This past week they’ve fared well, compiling a perfect 3-0-0 record against some stiff competition. By stiff competition, I’m not referring to the Florida Panthers. Instead, I’m talking about the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and a much-improved Carolina Hurricanes squad that gave the Bolts all they could handle in a close game. And, well, the Red Wings.
Many players have contributed to the Lightning’s outstanding start, the best in franchise history. There are the usual suspects, like captain Steven Stamkos and his partner-in-crime Nikita Kucherov. Then there are the surprises. Raise your hand if you had Andrei Vasilevskiy topping the NHL in wins. Perhaps more intriguing, rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev had a week that can’t easily be topped. At one point, the young prospect led all rookie defensemen in goals, while making certain he stayed up with the big club instead of being returned to juniors.
In saying this, there are three players who stood out more than their teammates in the past week. For this reason, I’ve chosen them to be Raw Charge’s stars of the week. Just as the NHL nominates three stars each week, I plan to point out Lightning players who made a difference. I may not always write about the players that teams around the league know well, but instead the unknown third- and fourth- line grinders who can swing momentum and perhaps spur a comeback win. But this week, the three biggest stars are pretty well known.
Let’s get started.
1st star: Steven Stamkos
On most teams, this would be a slam dunk. The Lightning have Nikita Kucherov though. Stamkos narrowly edges him out, with one point separating the two greatest players in the NHL currently. Primarily known as a goal scorer, the captain’s done most of his damage in the season’s early stages by feeding teammates. His unselfish decision making can’t go unnoticed either, as his perfect feed with 0.4 seconds remaining against Carolina extended Kucherov’s point scoring streak to 10 games. That matched Stamkos’s, and the two went on to tie Martin St. Louis’ franchise record of 11 straight games recording at least a point.
Here is a breakdown of Stamkos’ week, beginning October 21st:
- vs. Pittsburgh Penguins: 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points, plus-1 rating
- @ Carolina Hurricanes: 0 goals, 2 assists, 2 points, plus-2 rating
- vs. Detroit Red Wings: 1 goal, no assists, 1 point, minus-1 rating
Which equals seven points. While Stamkos struggled in the final game, allowing a shorthanded tally, he got it back. His third period power play goal broke a 1-1 tie and gave the Lightning momentum. If not for back-to-back penalties, resulting in a 6-on-4 skater advantage for the final three and a half minutes, it could have been the game winner. Either way, his goal was the one that gave the team its first lead of the night. Not bad for what would likely go down as a sub-par performance by his own standards.
2nd star: Nikita Kucherov
Just as Stamkos would probably run away with first star honors on any other team, Kucherov could easily do the same. With a lethal shot and pinpoint accuracy, the Russian forward has 12 goals in the Lightning’s first 11 games. That total leads the league, two ahead of his closest competitor in fellow countryman Alexander Ovechkin. Pretty elite company if you ask me.
Kucherov’s weekly breakdown looks like this:
- vs. Penguins: 2 goals, 1 assist, 3 points, plus-1 rating
- @ Hurricanes: 1 goal, no assists, 1 point, plus-2 rating
- vs. Red Wings: 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 points, minus-1 rating
Which equals six points. While Kucherov struggled to get on the scoreboard against Carolina, he continues to give opposing goaltenders nightmares. Ask Jimmy Howard, who, thanks to divisional games, sees how much havoc Kucherov can wreak more often than he’d like to admit.
Playing alongside Stamkos helps, obviously, but Kucherov can score no matter who he plays with. Case in point: last season. With the captain sidelined by a tear in his knee requiring surgery, the young 23 year old put up 40 goals in 74 games played. That was with a blender of linemates, trying to find what worked. This season, with Stamkos back on the ice, the two are taking the NHL by storm in the early going. If they can remain healthy, the sky is the limit for the Lightning.
3rd star: Andrei Vasilevskiy
This was by far the toughest decision. Rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev had a strong case, as did forward Alex Killorn. I chose Vasilevskiy in large part due to the number of saves he made paralleled to the number of shots faced. Whether it be 10- bell or routine, there’s no denying the first-year starter has earned the trust of his teammates. He also leads the NHL with nine wins, while ranking fourth in save percentage at .936.
Since shutting out the Columbus Blue Jackets on the road October 19th, he’s upped his game to a higher level. In fact, he’d only allowed three goals (one per game) until a late 6-on-4 penalty kill against the Red Wings produced a second goal against.
Here is Vasilevskiy’s breakdown. Note that this doesn’t describe the Grade A chances he faced at various points in these games.
- vs. Penguins: 1 goal against on 29 shots
- @ Hurricanes: 1 goal against on 32 shots
- vs. Red Wings: 2 goals against on 31 shots
While it looks as if he struggled against Detroit on the surface, keep in mind that the two goals he surrendered came off of bad decisions made by teammates. Stamkos’ turnover in the offensive zone created a 2-on-1 that was converted into a shorthanded goal. Sergachev’s penalty late in the the third period, with Howard pulled for the extra attacker, also gave the Red Wings an advantage. They didn’t miss, making the game’s final minutes interesting. That’s when Vasilevskiy shined, making a couple of big stops to help preserve the win.
Now that I’ve given you my three stars for this past week, why don’t you give me yours? Are they different? Are they the same? Is it varied? Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section. Be sure to tune in next week when I select three more stars for Raw Charge.