The Tampa Bay Lightning accomplished what they wanted to do in October. They avoided a slow start by going 10-2-1 for an Eastern Conference-leading 21 points. They have the points leader (Steven Stamkos) and goals leader (Nikita Kucherov). Their goaltender has had some of the best 4-goals-allowed performances in the history of the NHL. Braden Point is continuing to contribute while Tyler Johnson is settling into a role as a third/fourth-line center. Even Dan Girardi is contributing in Dan Girardi-esque ways. There is no lack of contenders for the title of Bolt of the Month.
Let’s start with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. The most dynamic Tampa duo since Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis, the Lightning’s offensive leaders are one and two in scoring in the NHL and were recently named the first and second stars of the month for the NHL.
They deserved the honor. Despite not feeling “100%” Stamkos has picked up right where he left off last season prior to his injury against Detroit. He has 24 points in 13 games and has been held off the scoresheet in only one game. In 8 of those 13 games he’s recorded multiple points. After starting the season with only 2 goals in his first 8 games he’s ramped up the tallies with 4 goals in his last 5. He is operating at peak efficiency, now he just has to survive November.
Kucherov is also rolling along as if he didn’t have an entire summer off. Thirteen goals and twenty-one points is normally enough to be named player of the month. One could argue that he should have been the first star based on the number of goals he scored, but the league loves centers. Like Stamkos, the Russian sniper has only been held off the scoresheet in one game. Also, like the captain, he has eight multipoint games. He also started the season with a seven game goal scoring streak. Not too shabby.
Despite their scoring prowess they did not achieve the greatest honor a Tampa Bay Lightning team member can hope for: the Raw Charge Bolt of the Month. That honor goes to rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev.
The young defender has continued the strong play that he showed in training camp. He’s averaging just over 13 minute a game, a number which would be higher if the Lightning didn’t take so many penalties (5th most in the league). He is currently second in rookie scoring, tied with Will Butcher at 11 points. Whereas Butcher’s scoring rate has slowed in the last few weeks (3 points in his last 5 games), Sergachev seems to be heating up adding 9 points in his last 7 games.
In his first 13 games he had 11 points. The only Lightning rookies who have accumulated more points in that short of a time were Brad Richards and Cory Conacher. As far as Lightning rookie defenders he is already halfway to Radko Gudas’ season record of 22 points.
The 19-year-old Russian has found a home on the second power play unit where he has accumulated 4 of his 11 points. With the extra man, he’s shown the ability to find the open space. For instance, on this goal:
The Lightning are rushing up on the power play, Sergachev casually drifts into the center of the ice. He reads the defense and settles into the soft spot behind the Penguins backchecker. He bangs his stick on the ice to let Stamkos know he’s open and once he gets the pass, he doesn’t hesitate in getting it on net, wristing it past Antti Niemi.
Pairing him with Anton Stralman has been one of Coach Cooper’s best decisions this year as the veteran Swede’s steady play up and down the ice allows Sergachev to be aggressive. Stralman is going to be a protective blanket for the young Russian until he becomes a little more aware of where he needs to be in the defensive zone or if chooses the wrong time to pinch in on the rush.
Coach Cooper is doing his best to shield his young defender, with 72.6% of his starts beginning in the offensive zone. Not only does that lessen the pressure on Sergachev, it also puts him in a greater position to score, which is what he is on this team to do. Will all of his months be like October? Probably not (but we can hope).
He is, like the rest of the team, riding an unsustainable streak of luck as his 106.7 PDO can attest to. As the season continues he is likely to be deployed in less sheltered situations. One of the most positive areas of development is that he doesn’t often make the same mistake twice. He also wants to get better, per one of his former coaches:
Vitali Prokhorov, who's coached Mikhail Sergachev in Russian teams: 'If he sees he's bad at something he'd do everything to do better'— Igor Eronko (@IgorEronko) November 2, 2017
It’s kind of scary to think how much better he could be as his skills develop. Other teams probably don’t like the thought of having to face either Victor Hedman or Mikhail Sergachev for 40 minutes a game every night for the next six or seven years. That’s for the future, though. For now it’s just a pleasure to see him emerge as a solid defenseman playing beyond his years.