Steven Stamkos has a knack for pulling off career milestones at home. His first hat trick was on home ice, he scored his 100th career goal on home ice, and his first career NHL fight was in front of the Tampa Bay crowd. On March 18th, 2013, Stamkos also scored his 200th career goal on friendly ice.
The goal itself wasn’t that memorable. On the forecheck, he picked Simon Gagne’s pocket on a pass that was a little behind his former teammate, and then wristed it into the empty net. The most difficult move on the goal was probably performed by Marty St. Louis, who had to avoid getting hit by the puck on its way into the net. It wasn’t the first anti-climatic milestone goal of Stamkos’ career. He scored his 150th goal without the obstacle of a netminder in front of him as well.
Empty net or not, scoring 200 goals is pretty special. To this day, only 456 players have done it in NHL history. Considering that over 5,600 players have put on an NHL uniform, that is a pretty unique club.
He was the fastest to do it in Lightning history, needing only 354 games. The only other members of the 200-goal club in Tampa Bay are St. Louis, who took 515 games, and Vincent Lecavalier who needed 581 career games to get over the hump.
Stamkos, just over a month past his 23rd birthday, was the 4th-youngest player to achieve the 200 goal plateau in NHL history. Only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Dale Hawerchuk hit the mark at a younger age.
I have to point out that only Canadians can achieve this honor, because they can jump into the league at 18 years old. Had he been born Stepan Kristofovich Stamkosov, and in Tomsk instead of Toronto, he wouldn’t have come over to the NHL until he was at least 20. So some of these “fastest to do something” stats can be a little skewed.
The talented young center was playing some of his best hockey during the lockout-shortened season of 2012-13. While the team was struggling, the win put their record at 13-15-1, Stamkos’ goal was his league-leading 21st of the season. He ended the season with 29 goals, second in the NHL to Alex Ovechkin’s 32.
Over the 48-game season Stamkos averaged 1.19 points a game, the highest per-game average for his career. More than usual, it was his assists that were driving the higher number. He averaged .58 assists a game with the bulk of them (17 of 28) being recorded as primary assists. While the number itself wasn’t all that impressive (Sidney Crosby led the league at 1.14 apg and Martin St. Louis led the Lightning at .90) it did show that Stamkos was on the way to evolving as a playmaker as well as a shooter.
As another footnote to history, the empty-net goal was the last goal Stamkos scored with Guy Boucher as the head coach of the Lightning. After winning in Philadelphia, the Lightning dropped the next two games and Boucher was sacked by the organization because, in General Manager Steve Yzerman words, “Philosophically, without being specific, there’s a difference between myself and (Boucher),” Yzerman told the Tampa Bay Times.*
Stamkos shouldered some of the blame, telling the Times, “Someone has to take the blame and history shows it’s the coach. Sometimes it’s unfair. In this case, you wish you could have played better.”
No coach got more out of Stamkos than Boucher. During the 196 game tenure Boucher had with the Lightning, Stamkos scored 126 goals in 195 games. He had two of his three 90+ seasons with Boucher at the helm as well. Some of that could be a coincidence, a talented hockey player in the prime of his career, but a lot of it could be due to Boucher’s philosophy.
As Stamkos pointed out in the interview with Steve Dangle, Boucher believed in working more on a player’s strengths than their weaknesses — 80 percent of what a player does well and 20 percent of what they don’t do well. Allowing Stamkos to focus on putting the puck in the net played to his strengths better than getting him to be a defensive player.
It would be fair to point out that the empty net goal Stamkos scored for his 200th carry marker was the result of a pretty nice defensive play. Players don’t often get chances at empty nets unless there is some defensive responsibility seen by the coach.
It’s probably going to take Stamkos a little bit more than 272 games to score his second 200 career goals (he’s currently played 232 games since he hit the mark and is 79 goals shy of 400), but chances are he’ll score it at home, into an empty net.