Saturday, March 2, 2024
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NHL Star Power Index: Nikita Kucherov continues reign of dominance, Connor McDavid pacing Oilers amid streak

Welcome to the NHL Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players who are controlling substantial buzz around the league. When a player is included on this list it may not be a good thing — it means that they are capturing a large amount of the hockey world’s attention.

These players are in no particular order when it comes to the amount of buzz that they’re creating. We’ll revisit the Star Power Index every week throughout the regular season.

Nikita Kucherov has been one of the most lethal forwards across the NHL this season, full stop.

The Tampa Bay Lightning star currently leads the NHL with 85 points (32 goals, 53 assists) and holds a one-point advantage over Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon for that title. Kucherov just capped off a stellar month of January in which he registered 24 points (six goals, 18 assists).

Kucherov has tallied four goals and four assists over his last three games, including a three-point performance against the Arizona Coyotes on Jan. 25.

In a 6-3 win against the Coyotes, Kucherov registered a goal and two assists to help the Lightning get off to a hot start.

At the 19:26 mark of the opening period, Kucherov set up the Lightning’s second goal of the evening. After the Lightning won a face-off in their own zone, Kucherov was able to secure possession of the puck and made his way up the ice. Kucherov flipped the pass off of the far boards, and teammate Brayden Point snapped a shot past Coyotes goaltender Connor Ingram once he grabbed the loose puck.

In the second period, Kucherov was able to get the job done all by himself. After an initial Lightning scoring chance was thwarted by the Coyotes, Kucherov was able to post up in his sweet spot. Lightning forward Steven Stamkos noticed a wide-open Kucherov lurking in the face-off circle, and delivered the puck right over to Kucherov. Kucherov certainly didn’t miss the one-time opportunity as he sent a scorching slap shot past Ingram to give the Lightning a 3-1 lead.

Kucherov also earned a primary assist on Stamkos’ goal less than five minutes later for his third point of the evening.

It’s no secret Kucherov and MacKinnon are shades above the rest of the league in the Hart Trophy race as the league’s MVP. Kucherov is currently on pace for 142 points (54 goals, 88 assists) this season, which would shatter his previous career-high of 128 points, and there’s no signs of him slowing down anytime soon.

It may seem crazy to think about, but this could be classified as a down year for Connor McDavid.

McDavid currently has 67 points, but only has 20 goals to his credit as the league approaches the All-Star break. The Edmonton Oilers star is on pace for 128 points (38 goals, 90 assists) over the course of the 2023-24 season, and he’s registered at least 44 goals in each of the past two campaigns.

However, McDavid could be turning the corner in the goal-scoring department. The Oilers center is currently riding a three-game goal-scoring streak, and he’s scored five goals during that stretch as the league takes a brief hiatus for this weekend’s NHL All-Star Game.

McDavid is coming off of a four-point performance in a 4-1 win against the Nashville Predators on Saturday. His stellar showing helped the Oilers win their 16th consecutive game, and he brought the team within one victory of tying the longest winning streak in league history.

On Saturday, the Oilers star tallied a goal and three assists in what was his fourth four-point game of the season.

Nearly midway through the third period, McDavid received a pass in the slot and put a drive a net that was stopped by Predators goaltender Kevin Lankinen. However, McDavid pursued the loose puck and was able to tuck the rebound behind Lankinen for his lone goal of the contest. The tally gave the Oilers a commanding 3-0 lead and really helped put the game out of reach.

Earlier in the conest, McDavid also earned a primary assist on teammate Leon Draisaitl’s second period goal. McDavid again found himself with the puck in the slot thanks to some terrific puck movement from the Oilers’ offensive attack. The Oilers star easily could’ve ripped a shot on net, but chose to dish it off to Draisaitl for the one-timer in the face-off circle.

It’s not surprising the Oilers have been playing at an insane level considering the way McDavid has been operating recently. The Oilers got off to a rough start this season, but have transformed themselves into one of the most dangerous teams across the NHL, and McDavid has a lot to do with that.

There’s been a new wave of elite defensemen breaking into the NHL in recent years, and two of the biggest examples are Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks and Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche. Still, Roman Josi continues to showcase his talents as one of the league’s premier blue-liners.

The Nashville Predators star currently ranks fifth in points (44) among defensemen, while also ranking fifth in assists (34). In addition, Josi is first on the Predators in assists, while also being second in points behind only Filip Forsberg (50).

Josi recently recorded a pair of assists in a 4-3 overtime loss at the hands of the Ottawa Senators. It marked the 10th multi-point game of the 2023-24 season for the Predators standout.

Josi helped get the scoring started for the Predators as he assisted on the team’s first goal. Just 8:26 into the contest, Josi fired a scorching slap shot from center ice that bounced off the boards and ricocheted right out in front where teammate Michael McCarron was waiting. McCarron deposited the puck into the back of the net on the wild bounce to give the Predators a 1-0 lead.

Perhaps it was a lucky bounce, but good things can definitely happen on the forecheck in the right situations. Considering no Senators were loitering behind the net, Josi had a primary opportunity to work the puck in deep, and this one was just the perfect storm.

Josi is coming off of a tremendous month in which he tallied at least one point in 10 of the 13 games in January. 

At 33 years old, Josi is still one of the top blue-liners that the league has. It’ll be interesting to see if he can play his way into the Norris Trophy conversation during the second half of the season.

Jeremy Swayman has proved to be a stabilizing force in the crease for the Boston Bruins throughout the 2023-24 season.

Entering the All-Star break, the Boston Bruins netminder has racked up a 16-3-7 record, a 2.30 goals-against-average and a .924 save percentage in 27 games. Swayman’s three shutouts are tied for second in the league with only Connor Ingram (Arizona Coyotes), Tristan Jarry (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Thatcher Demko (Vancouver Canucks) having more with five blank sheets.

Swayman has really been thriving in recent weeks as he’s tallied a 1.67 goals-against-average over his last three starts. The veteran goaltender has only been victorious in each of his last four starts.

Most recently, Swayman stopped 35 of the 37 shots that he faced in a 3-2 overtime win against the Ottawa Senators on Jan. 25. Over the four games, he’s allowed a grand total of five goals, including registering a shutout against the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 15.

Much like Linus Ullmark did a season ago, Swayman has proved to be a brick wall at times and has certainly been one of the league’s top goalies up to this point. As a result, the Bruins goaltender is heading to his first All-Star Game this coming weekend.

With the Bruins making another run at the Presidents’ Trophy, Swayman’s success will be a big part of that pursuit as the regular season comes down the home stretch.

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