“Here is a sentence I never though I would type,” Leonsis wrote. “A Lightning player has scored more goals this season than Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, and Mike Green combined.”
That fact is a reflection of Washington’s woes, certainly, as Ovechkin, Semin and Green have 26, 17 and 3 goals, respectively, for a total of 46. But it also shows how Stamkos has continued to stake his claim as an elite player in the NHL.
If the Capitals are going to succeed against the Lightning on Thursday night, they’ll need to find a way to minimize the damage done by Stamkos, who heads into this contest with a league-leading 48 goals, 10 more than second-best Evgeni Malkin, and tied for tops in points with 81.
Stamkos’s scoring prowess is of the automatic variety. Opposing teams know the threat he poses, but can do little to prevent him from either setting up a tally or rifling a shot of his own into the back of the net.
“Personally, I think he’s upped his game to not just the superstar status but that elite status, like when Ovi had 65 goals. He’s up there now,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “If you’re playing video games, they’re the game-breakers on the video game. That’s why they get that tag, because they can go out there and when you’re against the wall they do it.”
The 22-year-old has a rapid release on his shot, and an extra second or two before a defenseman closes the gap is all Stamkos needs to whip a puck past an opposing netminder. That makes him all the more dangerous when he manages to shake his coverage and make his way to an opening, where he can take feeds from regular linemate Martin St. Louis.
Given the praise Jay Beagle received from Coach Dale Hunter following his efforts at shutting down the Carolina Hurricanes’ top line and star center, Eric Staal, it’s possible he receives a chance to do the same against Stamkos. If so, Beagle knows he’ll have a tough task.
“He always finds the back door and kind of sneaks away. If you’re not paying attention you could lose him,” Beagle said. “You’ve got to be on top of him all the time. You’ve got to take his time and space away and just make it a really hard game for him to play. If you’re hounding him constantly he’s going to get frustrated hopefully. Just make it tough on him, that’s all you can do.”
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