Kucherov looks to add to impressive points total tonight vs. Wild

Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov does it again Thursday night in Los Angeles. [AP photo]
Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov does it again Thursday night in Los Angeles. [AP photo]

RW Nikita Kucherov is the first player to reach the 50-point mark this season, doing it in 34 games.

Over the past 10 seasons, only Sidney Crosby (30 games in 2010-11, 31 in 2012-13), Evgeni Malkin (31 in 2008-09) and Alex Ovechkin (32 in 2009-10) have reach 50 points in fewer games than Kucherov during the last 10 years.

Kucherov, who has four consecutive multi-point games, enters tonight leading the league in points and is tied with Alex Ovechkin for goals with 23.

"Kuch is playing at an elite level right now," coach Jon Cooper said, "and I think that started in the summer when he came down in July and rented the ice out himself and was on the ice for five days a week. A pretty determined kid who's obviously found a lot of chemistry with (Steven) Stamkos and (Vladislav) Namestnikov (his linemates).

"It's his compete level all over the ice that I think is paying dividends for him now. He's elite. It's all I can say. you're going to talk about the top players in the league you'd be remiss if you don't mention his name."

Cooper called Kucherov's development "symmetrical," in that he scored 30 points in 2015-16, his first full year in the league, and 40 points last season.

"I'm pretty sure he's hoping to get 50 this year," Cooper said.

Kucherov has a chance to add to his goal and points' total tonight against the visiting Wild, the Lightning's final game before the league-mandated three-day break.

Minnesota (18-14-3) lost 4-2 to the Panthers on Friday night at Sunrise.

"The bear's been poked a little hit since they lost last night, so we expect a heavy game from those guys."

The Lightning (25-7-2) heads into tonight's game with NHL-highs in wins (25), points (52), points percentage (.765), goals (128) and goal differential (plus-43). The Lightning leads the league in points per game (3.76) and is fourth in goals allowed per game (2.53). It is the only team in the league in the top-seven in both categories.

Going Wild

The Lightning and Wild have split the two-game series between the two during the past four seasons with the home team winning each time. The Lightning have allowed only five goals during its four-game home winning streak against Minnesota. G Andrei Vasilevskiy has allowed four goals in three career starts against the Wild, including one goal in each of his last two starts against them.

Cooper said he expects another low-scoring game against a bigger, physical team from the Western Conference.

"You can't beat yourselves against them, because if you try to open it up and create they'll beat you with the odd-man rush," Cooper said. "We got to play a disciplined game against them."

RW Nino Niederreiter, whose third on the Wild with 10 goals, suffered a lower body injury against the Panthers and is out for tonight.

The lineup

The forward lines from the morning skate:





The defensive pairings:





Vasilevskiy, who leads the NHL with 22 wins, will be in net.

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