Friday, September 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Less ice time not hurting Steven Stamkos' production for Lightning

NEWARK, N.J.

Captain Steven Stamkos is off to a hot start this season.

And an efficient one.

That Stamkos entered Saturday's game against the Devils leading the Lightning with nine points, including five goals in his first seven games, was encouraging. It wasn't unexpected, the All-Star saying his mind is finally free of distractions after signing an eight-year, $68 million contract in June to stay with Tampa Bay.

But it's interesting that Stamkos had done so while averaging his lowest ice time since his rookie season (14:56 in 2008-09). This is not a criticism or an attempt to stir the pot in the Lightning's strong start. Stamkos still led the team's forwards at 18:39. Jonathan Drouin was the closest to him at 18:10.

Stamkos plays on the power play and the penalty kill, which he likes. It's not like he had been limited to 10 to 12 minutes a game. And it was only seven games.

But Stamkos was averaging more than a minute less than last season's 19:45, which was well off his career high of 22:01, set in 2011-12 and 2012-13.

"Hey, I'd like to play 60 minutes a night," Stamkos said. "I think if you ask any player, they want to play as much as possible. It's just the way it's worked out. Things have gone well for our team and myself. I don't think anyone is ever going to say they want to play less. That's the way it's gone so far. We've had success, and hopefully we can keep it up."

The Lightning has a deep forward group, and coach Jon Cooper can spread out the minutes. Six forwards were logging 17 minutes or more (that would have been seven if Nikita Kucherov hadn't missed the final two periods of Thursday's 3-1 loss to Montreal due to injury). Alex Killorn, who entered Saturday with a team-high six goals, was averaging a career-high 17:27. Drouin understandably had a four-minute spike from last season. Even rookie Brayden Point was playing 15 minutes a game.

It makes sense. It's just something to watch as the season progresses.

BOOers BEWARE? Stamkos said that Tuesday in Toronto was just the second time in his NHL career that he had been booed. The first was Nov. 14, 2011, in Winnipeg, when Jets fans were upset about how Stamkos sold a high-sticking call to get a Tampa Bay five-on-three power play. Stamkos scored in both those games, so it might not be a good idea for opposing fans to do it.

EXPANSION TALK: A fascinating piece by ESPN's Pierre LeBrun on Thursday revealed a telling part of the still-developing rules for June's expansion draft. The new Las Vegas franchise will have a 48-hour window ahead of the draft to speak with and sign pending unrestricted and restricted free agents other teams left unprotected for the draft.

The Lightning has several players who can be restricted free agents in the summer, including Drouin, center Tyler Johnson and wing Ondrej Palat, though they're expected to be protected. Defensemen Andrej Sustr and Nikita Nesterov also can be restricted free agents. Would Las Vegas make a run at signing pending unrestricted free-agent goalie Ben Bishop? If a team loses any pending free agent, then it wouldn't have to lose another player in the expansion draft.

SLAP SHOTS: Interesting to look at NHL scoring leaders entering Saturday and see two former Lightning forwards, Chicago's Richard Panik (six goals) and Florida's Jonathan Marchessault (10 points). … Not only is Brayden Point likely to stick with the Lightning, he also seems to be a big part of its plans. He was averaging 15:49 of ice time. … The Canadiens appear to be the toughest threat to the Lightning winning the Atlantic Division.

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