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Lightning journal: Kucherov in elite company with points pace

DIRK SHADD | Times Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) battles to get to the puck against Detroit Red Wings center Frans Nielsen (51) during first period action at at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Thursday evening (10/26/17).
Published Dec. 24, 2017

TAMPA — Lightning RW Nikita Kucherov, the first player to reach 50 points this season, has 51 after his empty-netter finished the scoring in Saturday's 3-0 win against the Wild.

Kucherov, who entered the game tied with Washington's Alex Ovechkin for the league lead in goals, has 24.

Over the past 10 seasons, only the Penguins' Sidney Crosby (30 games in 2010-11, 31 in 2012-13) and Evgeni Malkin (31 in 2008-09) and the Caps' Ovechkin (32 in 2009-10) have reached 50 points in fewer games than Kucherov, who needed 24. He has at least one point in seven straight games, though his run of multipoint games ended at four Saturday.

RELATED: After a rough stretch, penalty kill comes up big for Lightning in win over Wild.

"(Kucherov) is playing at an elite level right now," coach Jon Cooper said after the morning skate, "and I think that started in the summer when he came (to Tampa) 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. If 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 goals in 2015-16, his first full year in the league, and 40 last season. "I'm pretty sure he's hoping to get 50 this year," Cooper said.

Quote of the day

"If you're going to say at the beginning of the year that Vladdy was going to be on pace for 30 (goals) at Christmastime, what a bonus for us."

Coach Jon Cooper (left), on C Vladislav Namestnikov's career-high 15 goals through 35 games

RELATED: Roger Mooney's takeaways from Saturday's Lightning-Wild game.

Stamkos reacts to Longoria trade

Evan Longoria's trade last week from the Rays to the Giants was felt all over the bay area, including inside the Lightning dressing room, where the three-time Gold Glove third baseman has several friends, including captain Steven Stamkos.

"Obviously, sad to see him go, but he's left a great legacy behind with the work he does in this community," Stamkos said. "You understand the move because of where the Rays are and where he is in his career. I'm kind of excited for him to maybe get a chance to (win) but definitely sad to see him go. He was pretty instrumental in everything that's great about our city."

The fallout from the Rays trading the face of their organization might have gripped Lightning fans had Stamkos left as a free agent or was traded before signing an eight-year, $68 million contact before the 2016-17 season.

RELATED: Lightning's first option for upgrades: AHL Syracuse.

"It's the business of the sport," Stamkos said. "I think it's a little different when you get traded. … Obviously, I wish him the best of luck because he's a great person and great for the city."

Slap shots

The NHL's mandated three-day Christmas break begins today. The Lightning returns to the ice Wednesday for practice before hosting the Canadiens and former Lightning F Jonathan Drouin on Thursday. … Defensemen Slater Koekkoek and Andrej Sustr were healthy scratches. … Wild RW Nino Niederreiter, third on the team with 10 goals, missed the game with a lower-body injury.

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