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Behind The Numbers

Lightning top line flourishing in playoffs

Kucherov, Johnson, Killorn have accounted for 53.3 percent of goals in postseason

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

A key factor behind the success of the Tampa Bay Lightning through the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has been the success of their top line of Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov, with neither the Detroit Red Wings nor New York Islanders having an answer.

Ondrej Palat spent some time on the left wing instead of Killorn, primarily in Games 2 and 3 against the Islanders, but the line otherwise has been in place throughout most of the playoffs and been the NHL's most effective.

Figure the Pittsburgh Penguins to take particular notice when they face the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final. Game 1 is at Consol Energy Center on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Statistically, the importance of Tampa Bay's top line can be seen when comparing it to the leading lines from the other teams in the 2016 playoffs in four key categories:


No line has scored as many goals, or contributed a larger share of its team's overall scoring, than Killorn, Johnson and Kucherov. The three have scored 16 of the Lightning's 30 goals (53.3 percent) through 10 games. This is more than twice the 25.9 percent they contributed in the regular season, having scored 58 of the team's 224 goals in 82 games.

The next highest-scoring lines are Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie of the Washington Capitals (13 goals), and Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks (12).

On a percentage basis, the two other lines that were responsible for at least half of its team's scoring: Reilly Smith, Nick Bjugstad and Jussi Jokinen of the Florida Panthers (seven of 14 goals), and Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers (five of 10 goals).

Video: TBL@NYI, Gm3: Kucherov beats Greiss to tie the game


Some lines have played more games and had more ice time, especially with the man-advantage, making it useful to level the playing field by comparing each line's even-strength scoring rate.

Killorn, Johnson and Kucherov have a combined 10.0 points per 60 minutes at even strength. In comparison, the top line for San Jose and Washington each has scored 5.2 points per 60 minutes.

The only line with a higher scoring rate than Tampa Bay's top line is Jason Pominville, Nino Niederreiter and Erik Haula of the Minnesota Wild, who combined for 12.3 points per 60 minutes in the Western Conference First Round against the Dallas Stars.

Video: DET@TBL, Gm2: Johnson finds the net twice in win


Strong play at each end of the ice has led to one-sided results on the scoreboard whenever Tampa Bay's top line is on the ice.

The Lightning have outscored their opponents 20-3 when Kucherov has been on the ice this postseason, the largest margin in the League, and they have been outscored 16-10 when he has not been. Likewise, Tampa Bay is outscoring opponents 18-4 with Johnson on the ice and 14-4 with Killorn.

Among forwards, the closest to Kucherov are in Washington and San Jose. With Ovechkin, the Capitals outscored their opponents 19-5 and were outscored 17-10 without him. For the Sharks, the margins are 17-6 with Thornton on the ice and 22-19 without him.

Video: DET@TBL, Gm5: Callahan finds Killorn for lead in 3rd


If there's a single statistical perspective from which Tampa Bay's top line doesn't dominate the League, it's one based on all shot attempts, not just goals.

With Kucherov on the ice, the Lightning have outplayed their opponents 167 shot attempts to 132, for an SAT of plus-35. Johnson has an SAT of plus-24, and Killorn is plus-36.

Those are very good numbers, but they're not the best. That distinction goes to Jonathan Huberdeau, Jaromir Jagr and Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers, who each had an SAT of plus-65, plus-55, and plus-52, respectively, in the Eastern Conference First Round against the Islanders.

Washington's top line is also ahead of Tampa Bay's. Ovechkin, Backstrom and Oshie each had an SAT of plus-57, plus-38, and plus-34, respectively.

The Stars also have a line with a shot attempt differential as good as the Lightning's, but it's not Jamie Benn's line. Radek Faksa, Ales Hemsky, and Antoine Roussel each has an SAT of plus-38, plus-35, and plus-28, respectively.

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