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Stamkos ready to join elite club

by John Kreiser

He didn't do it on Thursday. But sometime soon -- perhaps as soon as Saturday night against Carolina -- Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos is poised to join an exclusive club.

Stamkos is two goals away from becoming the NHL's first 50-goal scorer this season. When he does, he'll join an elite group of six players who've had multiple 50-goal seasons before their 23rd birthday (he turned 22 on Feb. 7). Wayne Gretzky did it four times; Mike Bossy, Mario Lemieux, Joe Nieuwendyk and Alex Ovechkin each had two seasons with at least 50 goals before turning 23 -- though Bossy, Nieuwendyk and Ovechkin had the disadvantage of not playing in the NHL until after their 20th birthdays.

The Lightning sniper is running away in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy, given to the NHL's leading goal-scorer. He enters the weekend with 48 -- 10 more than runner-up Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Steven Stamkos
Center - TBL
GOALS: 48 | ASST: 34 | PTS: 82
SOG: 235 | +/-: 5
Stamkos' 144 goals are the most by any player since the start of 2009-10; Anaheim's Corey Perry is next with 111, two more than Washington's Alex Ovechkin.

Unlikely snipers -- As the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, big things were expected of Stamkos, who had 23 goals in his rookie season before getting 51 and 45 in the next two. He became the 90th player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a season on April 10, 2010 -- and only the third to do it in his age-19 season (he turned 20 with 25 games remaining).

Though he more than doubled his rookie production in reaching 51 goals in his second NHL season, in some ways, it would have been a surprise in Stamkos didn't score 50 goals at an early stage of his career.

Unlike Stamkos, a lot of other 50-goal scorers had big seasons that came out of the blue.

By far the most unlikely was the 52-goal performance by Jacques Richard of the Quebec Nordiques in 1980-81. Richard was the second player chosen in the 1972 NHL Draft and the first pick ever by the expansion Atlanta Flames. He was dealt to Buffalo in 1975, terminated by the Sabres in February 1980, and signed with the hometown Nordiques, for whom he had 3 goals and 15 points in 14 games.

But in '80-81, he was paired with the newly arrived Stastny brothers and turned into a 52-goal, 103-point scorer, finishing in the top 10 in the NHL in both categories. Unfortunately for Richard, he was moved off the line with the Stastnys the following season, fell to 15 goals and 41 points and retired a year later. Thanks to Stamkos' big season, Richard's 160 goals are the fewest in a career by any 50-goal scorer.

Another unlikely 50-goal man was Vic Hadfield, whose 50 goals with the Rangers in 1971-72 were more than double his output from the previous season. Hadfield had never had more than 26 goals in his 10 previous NHL seasons before getting 50; he had 28 and 27 in the two following seasons.


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Wayne Babych had solid seasons of 27 and 26 goals in his first two seasons with St. Louis before erupting for 54 goals in 1980-81; he never had more than 20 again.

Hall of Famer Johnny Bucyk is the oldest first-time 50-goal scorer at age 35; however, Bucyk had been a 30-goal scorer twice before and had 31 or more goals in four of the next five seasons.

Runaway -- If Stamkos is running away with the goal-scoring title, Ottawa's Erik Karlsson is lapping the field when it comes to scoring by defensemen.

Karlsson entered the weekend with 67 points in 68 games, giving him a 23-point lead over runner-up Brian Campbell of Florida in the scoring race among defensemen. It’s the kind of runaway that hasn't been seen in the blue line in a long time.

Not since 1999-2000, when Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom led all defensemen with 73 points, 11 more than St. Louis' Chris Pronger, has the top-scoring defenseman's margin over the runner-up reached double figures. It hasn't been more than 20 points since Paul Coffey, then with Pittsburgh, finished with 113 points in 1988-89, beating runner-up Steve Duchene by 38.

Stars shine against Canadian teams -- The Dallas Stars have used a post-All Star surge to climb to the top of the Pacific Division, and they've helped themselves mightily by beating up on the teams based north of the border.

Tuesday's 5-2 win at Vancouver gave the Stars a 9-0-1 record against teams that play in Canada -- including a sweep of their three-game trip. The good news is that beginning Wednesday against Winnipeg, the Stars play six of their next eight games against teams from Canada, including a second three-game swing through the West.

The Stars aren’t the only team that has helped its playoff push by beating up on Canadian teams. Florida is 12-3-2 in 17 games, including 7-1-1 at home, against teams from Canada -- but just 19-20-10 in its 49 games against U.S.-based teams. The Panthers have four more games left against teams from Canada.

Turnabout -- It’s hard to imagine a team going from one extreme to another as fast as the Phoenix Coyotes have in making the transition from February to March.

The Coyotes ended the best month in franchise history on Feb. 28 when they beat Vancouver 2-1 in a shootout, capping an 11-0-1 February that carried them into first place in the Pacific Division.

March, in contrast, has been a nightmare.

The Coyotes dropped to 0-4-1 this month when they lost 3-2 in a shootout at home to the Minnesota Wild, who came to the desert with a 2-12-2 mark in their last 16 games. Not only have the Coyotes not won this month, they haven't even held a lead -- in fact, the opposition has led at least 2-0 in all five games. The Coyotes allowed 17 non-shootout goals during their February surge; they've allowed 16 in five games this month.

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