Lightning journal: Blink and you might miss a Nikita Kucherov goal

The right wing scores a lot ... and he does so with less time on the ice than pretty much anyone else in the league.
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) and center Brayden Point (21) celebrate a goal against Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) during first-period NHL hockey game action in Toronto on Monday, March 11, 2019. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press via AP)
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) and center Brayden Point (21) celebrate a goal against Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) during first-period NHL hockey game action in Toronto on Monday, March 11, 2019. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press via AP)
Published March 12
Updated March 12

TORONTO — Nikita Kucherov turns Jon Cooper into a fan behind the bench, as the coach watches to see what Kucherov can do next.

Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock called Kucherov the most dangerous player in the NHL.

Kucherov is just fun to watch. He has 111 points, and is 13 points ahead of Patrick Kane and Connor McDavid, who are tied for second.

Here’s the interesting thing (or with Kucherov, maybe it’s an interesting thing): He’s doing that with less time on ice than other stars.

Kucherov averages 19:41 on the ice per game. The only other skater in the top 10 in points below him is linemate Brayden Point (18:44). Mitch Marner is the highest-scoring player with the least time on ice not on the Lightning (19:35). He has 82 points and is 12th in the league.

Where would Kucherov fall if we evened out the time on ice? Still in the lead, of course, but by an even bigger margin.

Kucherov averages 4.92 points per 60 minutes. McDavid is the next closest out of the top 10 scorers with 4.02 points.

Sure, this is an arbitrary stat and not how hockey scoring is measured. But it just goes to show just how far above everyone else Kucherov is right now.

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NHL investigation

The NHL investigated the use of a homophobic slur during Monday’s game between the Lightning and Maple Leafs. The league determined that Morgan Rielly did not direct a slur at the referee.

“League officials interviewed several of the participants in the game - including Rielly and (referee Brad) Meier - and reviewed audio of the alleged incident,” senior executive vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell said in a statement. “All of those interviewed adamantly denied that Rielly uttered a slur and the audio supported their statements.”

The TV camera picked up a string of two different f-words with 1:51 left in the second period.

In a video shared on Twitter, then deleted, the slur is heard as Yanni Gourde and Rielly skated down the ice after a dump-in. Rielly appears to direct something at an official. The play came just after a no-call on a potential penalty against the Lightning.

“The NHL is aware of reports that a homophobic slur was used during the Maple Leafs-Lightning game,” the league’s PR account tweeted. “The League is investigating the incident and will have no further comment until this investigation is completed.”

The Maple Leafs tweeted a statement from general manager Kyle Dubas:

“The Club is aware of the reports surrounding a homophobic slur used during the Maple Leafs versus Lightning game on Monday night. The issue of homophobia is one the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club strongly condemns and takes very seriously. We are in communication with the NHL and are cooperating fully with their office.”

No statement from the Lightning, as the incident did not involve its players.

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Maple Leafs takeaways

Tampa Bay may very well meet Toronto again in May, in the second round of the playoffs.

Baring something crazy in the final weeks of the season, the Maple Leafs will play Boston in the first round and the Lightning would take on the winner with a first-round win.

What can the Lightning take away from Monday’s win over the Leafs with that in mind?

Not much.

“We caught a tired team,” Cooper said after the game. They just came off the West Coast and they’ve got to play another game at home in a different time zone, and you’ve got to take advantage of that.”

The Lightning wanted to make a statement and did. Paquette said the team “really wanted to show them that’s why we are the best team in the league.”

But Tampa Bay didn’t see Toronto’s best this time around. As Tyler Johnson pointed out, the playoffs are an entirely different entity.

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