Penguins notebook: Nikita Kucherov gets halfway to Mario Lemieux streak
With his brilliant start to the season, Tampa Bay winger Nikita Kucherov has cemented his status as one of the NHL's most dangerous scorers.
He also managed to shine another spotlight on the greatness of Mario Lemieux.
Kucherov scored at least one goal in the first seven games of Tampa Bay's season before finally being held to just a pair of assists in a 2-0 Lightning win over Columbus on Thursday night.
“He's a dynamic player,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “He's very opportunistic. He anticipates extremely well. He has the ability to get behind defense in order to create opportunities. He stretches the ice extremely well and he has one of the most dangerous shots in the league. Right now, he's one of the more dynamic offensive players in the league.”
Kucherov's seven-game season-opening goal streak was the longest of the last two decades in the NHL.
It barely reached the halfway point of Lemieux's modern NHL record.
In 1992-93, Lemieux set a modern NHL record by scoring in the first 12 games of the season. He racked up 18 goals and 38 points during the stretch and ended up leading the league in scoring with 160 points despite missing 24 games after being diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease.
On the topic of season-opening goal streaks, Penguins prospect Daniel Sprong has a notable one of his own.
Coming into a game with Hartford on Saturday night, Sprong had scored in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's first five games of the season, tying a Baby Pens record for longest goal streak to start a season set by Tomas Surovy in 2003.
With a hat trick against Laval on Friday night, Sprong moved into a tie for the AHL lead in goals with seven and points with 10.
Sprong told The Citizens' Voice the strong start isn't testing his patience too much as far as an NHL call-up is concerned.
“If the phone rings, the phone rings,” Sprong said. “They're a good team up there, and there are no injuries up there. We're a good team down here, and I think any guy can get called up at any time.”
By starting Antti Niemi on Saturday night, Sullivan ensured the goalie's first three appearances with the Penguins would come in the tail end of back-to-back games with an at-least-somewhat-fatigued team playing in front of him.
Sullivan said he and the coaching staff considered switching starts on the current trip — using Niemi on Friday against Florida and Matt Murray on Saturday against Tampa Bay — but decided against it.
“It was definitely discussed, but we're trying to win that game right in front of us,” Sullivan said. “Part of the challenge when your role on the team is the backup goaltender, you tend to get a lot of the second games of the back-to-backs. That's not to say we're not going to make changes going forward. It's certainly something that we discuss, and we discussed it in this situation as well.”
A collision with Conor Sheary in Friday's game in Florida will sideline Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo at least a week with an apparent hand injury.
Panthers coach Bob Boughner said Luongo is day-to-day. He was placed on injured reserved Saturday.