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Kucherov, back in the lineup tonight, admits confidence is low

Rookie wing Nikita Kucherov has only two goals in his past 21 and zero in his past 14.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Rookie wing Nikita Kucherov has only two goals in his past 21 and zero in his past 14.

24

March

Lightning rookie wing Nikita Kucherov sat at his locker last week in Toronto and admitted his confidence was low. He had not scored in 14 games and was about to be scratched for a third straight game in a stretch that would reach five and seven of eight.

So instead of excitement, Kucherov showed reserve on Monday when talking about getting back into the lineup against the Senators.

"It's hard," he said about playing without confidence. "When you have the puck and don't have the confidence, it's hard to beat someone in this league. I'll do my best. We'll see what happens."

Kucherov, 20, got off to a great start when he was called up in November from AHL Syracuse with three goals in his first eight games. He had goals in three straight games from Jan. 1-5. But he has only two goals in his past 21 and zero in his past 14.

"He's 20," coach Jon Cooper said. "He's learning about the NHL. He's not disappointing me in the slightest. I'm really happy where he has been. I'm really happy where he's going. He's going to be a good player in this league."

Part of the equation is Kucherov played just 17 games for AHL Syracuse this season before being promoted to the NHL (so we're talking  a lack of pro experience). And In 2012-13 he played just 33 games in juniors, though he scored 66 points playing for Quebec and Rouyn-Noranda of the QMJHL (so we're talkng about Kucherov being used to producing offensively).

"I just need to play better," Kucherov said.

Asked if he had to guard about pressing too hard to score goals, Kucherov said, "I don't want to think about it. Just be in the right position and play simple. I don't want to think about goals."

Other stuff from the morning skate: Ben Bishop is scheduled to start in net, though it sounds as if there is a chance he might get another rest and recovery day. Probably won't know until tonight. ... Sounds as if Richard Panik, B.J. Crombeen, Keith Aulie and Mark Barberio will be scratched. ... Newly signed center Cody Kunyk, out of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, made it to Tampa after a two-day trip from Fairbanks. No word on when, or even if, he might play. ... Cooper had strong words about Ottawa's Erik Karlsson, whom he called "the top tier of the best ones in this league." ... Center Valtteri Filppula's eight-game points streak (four goals, eight assists) is tied for the league's longest current. "He's way better than I thought he was," Cooper said. "You can watch him on TV and appreciate the way he plays, but until you have him ... he's impressive. He plays both ends of the ice. He's just one of those guys you hope catches his breath fast enough so you can stick him back out there again. An A-plus add for us, for sure." ... Now that the Lightning seems as if it will be in the playoffs, some attention is turning to clinching home-ice advantage in the first round (if the playoffs started today, Tampa Bay would open at home against the Canadiens). "I think we're shooting for that for sure," Filppula said, and added, "I feel like you've got to focus on one game at a time. But in the back of your mind you're thinking if you have a good end of the year you might start at home and that would be great." ... The Lightning power play is 6-for-17 in its past four games. Part of the reason, Cooper said, is the return of Steven Stamkos, and not only because three of his six goals since he returned to the lineup have been with the extra man. "Teams need to play him really carefully, and then it opens up something else," Filppula said. Filppula should know as he scored Saturday against the Penguins after Stamkos faked a shot and passed to him cross-ice. "He faked that shot and the goalie had to come out a lot," Filppula said. "My shot barely made it to the net, but it had time to go in, so it's a big thing."

[Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2014 2:44pm]

    

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