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Stamkos, Kucherov entering discussion for best forward pair in NHL

Lightning duo has combined for 37 points through first 10 games of season

by Rob Vollman / NHL.com Correspondent

Forwards Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning have combined for 37 points (14 goals, 23 assists) through 10 games. That's the best 10-game start to a season by teammates since 1995-96, when Eric Lindros and John LeClair of the Philadelphia Flyers combined for 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists).

How do Stamkos and Kucherov stack up with the two highest-scoring forwards on other teams?

A 10-game sample is not enough time to evaluate players because anyone can get hot during a short period. Three seasons is the standard in statistical player evaluations.

From that perspective, Stamkos and Kucherov rank No. 5 in scoring and relatively are average in terms of shot-based metrics, despite playing together on the same line and having teammates who handle the tougher minutes. Some of the other pairs of teammates are tasked with the tough minutes and/or play on separate lines.

Let's take a closer look at each set of underlying numbers, remembering that Stamkos missed 65 games because of a knee injury in 2016-17.

Since the 2014-15 season, Kucherov and Stamkos have a combined total of 409 points (201 goals, 208 assists), which is No. 8 among each NHL team's two highest-scoring forwards. First place is Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin of the Dallas Stars, with 488 (209 goals, 279 assists).

Video: TBL@CAR: Kucherov nets Stamkos' feed in final seconds

In terms of manpower situations, 141 of the 409 points for Kucherov and Stamkos have been scored on the power play, which is 34.47 percent. That's typical of the top forward duos, including Benn and Seguin, who are at 34.43 percent. Like Kucherov and Stamkos, Benn and Seguin traditionally play together.

On a per-game basis, Kucherov and Stamkos have a combined average of 0.95 points per game, which is No. 5. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins are No. 1 at 1.09. They normally play on separate lines.

Kucherov and Stamkos also have performed very well from a shot-based perspective this season. Tampa Bay's share of on-ice shot attempts at 5-on-5 is 53.21 when Stamkos is on the ice, compared to 44.31 when he's off the ice. That works out to a Relative SAT percentage of plus-8.9 percent that is No. 16 among NHL forwards (minimum eight games).

But extending that view back to 2014-15 lessens the extent of that domination. Kucherov has a Relative SAT of plus-4.0 at 5-on-5, which is No. 31 among forwards with at least 100 games, and Stamkos is plus-1.0, which is No. 156. Together, they have a weighted average of plus-2.8, which ranks No. 15 among the 31 top-two forward units used in the scoring comparison.

In this shot-based perspective, the top forward duo is Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins, who are plus-8.7 and plus-7.5 for a weighted average of plus-8.1. Bergeron and Marchand typically play on the same line.

Shot-based metrics can be influenced by how the players are used. Those who frequently are deployed against top opponents, and in the offensive and defensive zones, sometimes can have less impressive shot-based metrics than those who primarily are used in offensive situations and against more secondary opponents.

Video: Breaking down Stamkos and Kucherov

Kucherov and Stamkos have enjoyed several deployment advantages. They have been used on the same line this season and prior to Stamkos' injury last season. They often are deployed in the offensive zone and against secondary opponents.

In terms of usage, the Lightning line of Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point, and Yanni Gourde has been assigned to face top opponents this season, and is used in more defensive-zone situations. According to Natural Stat Trick, Palat's most frequent opposing forwards at 5-on-5 in 2017-18 are Crosby (17:22) and Jonathan Huberdeau (13:57) and Aleksander Barkov (13:54) of the Florida Panthers. In terms of zone starts, Palat has lined up for 37 faceoffs in the offensive zone at 5-on-5, and 55 in the defensive zone, for an offensive-zone start percentage of 40.40 percent. Kucherov's offensive-zone start percentage is 58.33 percent, and Stamkos' is 57.30.

Their favorable deployment in the offensive zone and against secondary lines exists dating to 2014-15. Kucherov is No. 22 among NHL forwards (minimum 100 games) with a zone-start percentage of 59.39 at 5-on-5, and Stamkos is No. 44 at 57.66.

Because of this usage, their scoring and shot-based metrics may have received a slight boost.

There's no question Kucherov and Stamkos are having an outstanding start to the season. They have been part of the most effective line so far in terms of scoring and shot-based metrics. However, looking back to 2014-15 reveals several other forward pairs who have achieved greater results.

It will take continued success for the Lightning pair to establish themselves as the League's best forward duo, but they have put themselves firmly in the conversation.

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