The Tampa Bay Lightning have not only been the NHL’s most dominant team during the 2018-19 season, but they have a shot to be remembered as one of the all-time greatest single season teams the league has ever seen.
The enter Saturday’s game against the St. Louis Blues with 58 wins on the season, needing only four wins to match the record that was set by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings.
They are 12 points back of the 132 mark that was set by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens (in what was at the time an 80-game season).
Topping the point record would take at least a 6-0-1 record in their remaining seven games on top of what is currently a seven-game winning streak, so that would be asking quite a bit, especially given how difficult their remaining schedule is. But the wins mark is certainly well within their reach. Even if they do not get to either mark, there is no denying this has been one of the best regular season performances by any team in the history of the league.
With that in mind, here are some incredible numbers highlighting their dominance this season.
There is no one close to them in the standings
The Lightning have been so much better than every other team in the NHL this season that they wrapped up the Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s best record on March 18, when they still had nine games remaining on their schedule.
Entering play on Saturday they already have 120 points in the standings with still seven games to play.
For context on that, consider the following...
- Since the league introduced the three-point game at the start of the 2005-06 season, only two teams have ever had more than 120 points in a full season -- the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings, who finished with 124, and the 2009-10 Washington Capitals, who finished with 121. With a win on Saturday the Lightning would jump ahead of that Capitals team and close to within two points of the Red Wings. Keep in mind, again, that the Lightning still have seven games to play this season.
- As it relates to the 2018-19 season, the Lightning are 21 points ahead of the next closest team in the league (a tie between the Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins). The 21-point gap between them and the second best team is the same as the gap between the second best team and the 18th best team in the league.
- The obvious asterisk that you would put next to this team is that they play in the shootout era and have a chance to add up wins and points that teams prior to 2005-06 did not have the opportunity to register. It is a fair point, especially when we are comparing teams across different eras and the Lightning have won six games in shootouts this season. But even if you remove those six wins and six additional points, the Lightning would still be one of only 43 teams to have won at least 52 games in a season. Again, they still have seven games to play. Even if they only win three of them and *only* get to the 55-win mark, there were only eight teams prior to the shootout era that won that many games in a season.
They do not just win, they win big
Along with what is, by far, the best record in the NHL, the Lightning also have what is the league’s best goal-differential having already outscored their opponents by exactly 100 goals for the season.
Only one other team has a goal-differential better than plus-43 (the Calgary Flames at plus-56), and only three others (Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, and Winnipeg Jets) enter Saturday as better than plus-30.
In the history of the league only 31 teams have had a goal-differential of plus-100 or better through their first 75 games of the season, and only two teams (the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings and 2005-06 Ottawa Senators) have done it since 1989.
They have an offense from a different era
Their ability to score is like something out of the 1980s on both an individual and team level.
Let’s start with the latter, and take a look at their 3.89 goals per game average. That is 0.31 goals per game better than the next highest scoring team in the NHL.
That 3.89 per game average is the highest mark since the start of the 2005-06 season, and makes them only the third team during this era (the 2005-06 Ottawa Senators and 2009-10 Washington Capitals being the other two) that have averaged more than 3.80 goals per game.
Going as far back as 1990, only 19 teams have averaged more goals per game in a single season. Of the 18 teams ahead of them, 17 of them played between 1990 and 1994, and none of them played after 1996. They are one of only four teams in the top-40 in goals per game since then that played after 1994.
Keep in mind how different that era of offense was from today.
Average total goals per game in the NHL between 1990 and 1994: 7.04
Average total goals per game in the NHL in 2018-19: 5.98
Then we have their leading scorer, Nikita Kucherov, who has just absolutely lapped the field this season in the points race.
He has already topped the 80-assist and 120-point mark this season, something that only 20 other players in NHL history have accomplished, and none since 2006-07. It is only the sixth time it has been done since 1994. He still has seven games remaining this season.
Assuming he maintains his current pace, he is on track for 91 assists and 131 points this season. No one has topped 90 assists and 130 points in a season since Mario Lemieux in 1995-96, and it has only been done by eight different players in NHL history (Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey, Pat Lafontaine, Peter Stastny, Bobby Orr, Adam Oates, and Steve Yzerman). It is truly a season for the ages and should make him a slam-dunk MVP winner this season.
They also have a chance to be the first team since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins (Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, and Petr Nedved) to finish a season with three different 40-goal scorers.
Given their current pace, here is where Brayden Point (39 goals in 73 games), Steven Stamkos (38 goals in 75 games), and Nikita Kucherov (37 goals in 75 games) project to finish this season:
Point: 42 goals
Stamkos: 41 goals
Kucherov: 40 goals
Success is not anything new to this Lightning team.
They have been one of the NHL’s best teams since the 2014-15 season, reaching the Eastern Conference Final three times in four years, and once reaching the Stanley Cup Final (the two years they lost in the Final, they lost in Game 7). The one thing they have not been able to do is finish, allowing a series lead to slip away in each of those postseasons runs. That, combined with their regular season dominance, is almost certainly going to put Stanley Cup expectations on this team when the playoffs begin. Whether or not they are able to finish the job this season remains to be seen, but they have certainly put themselves in a position to be remembered as one of the greatest teams ever if they can pull it off.