TAMPA—Nikita Kucherov is back. There was never a reason for panic, but you can release the slight tension in your raised shoulders after watching Tuesday’s game.
The team and league’s scoring leader has consecutive multi-point games for the first time since Dec. 31 and Jan. 3. Kucherov had four points in the Lightning’s 6-3 win over Calgary, following the three he had on Sunday.
Kucherov had gone 10 games without a goal before Sunday’s win over Florida. He broke the streak with two goals, including a power-play goal late to put the game out of reach, and an assist. He scored late in the first period and had three assists in the game on Tuesday.
“The offense kind of goes with Kuch,” Steven Stamkos said. “We weren’t worried about Kuch. Once he got one, you know they’re going to come in bunches. Now he’s right back to where he was.”
The Kucherov Lighting fans saw Tuesday was the one Lightning fans have gotten used to: a little bit of everything, everywhere. He was part of some beautiful passing on Brayden Point’s power-play goal. He set up Anthony Cirelli from behind the net. He had a patented feed of a Steven Stamkos one-timer on the power play.
Each of the three assists was an entirely different play. Kucherov isn’t a player who needs to stick in his spot and do the same thing over again (though, don’t bet against him from the right dot).
Kucherov set a career high with 63 assists on the season, and there’s almost a third of the year still to be played. Last year, his first 100-point season, Kucherov totaled 61 assists.
He summed it up succinctly: “I like passing the puck.”
Kucherov, who has 14 more assists than anyone else in the league, enjoys having the puck on his stick, pulling two opponents to him and then find someone open.
“He has that ability to find guys, even when it doesn’t look like the guys are open. He’s got that ability,” coach Jon Cooper said. “What I like, though, is that he was shooting the puck tonight.”
Kucherov’s goal started with a nice little move on T.J. Brodie to open up a shooting lane. Then he put a wrist shot on David Rittich from the high slot. It was a pretty goal to put the Lightning up 3-0 late in the first period.
The Russian is known for being hard on himself and he rarely talks about his own game. Asked about getting back on the scoresheet, he said “it’s good to see two wins, that’s better.”
In the past, slumps have weighed on Kucherov. He has had a hard time pulling out. That wasn’t the case this time, though.
“He’s done a really good job of maturing as a person and a player,” Stamkos said. “When he goes through those stretches where he’s not letting that frustration set in and he’s going about doing his business knowing that eventually he’s going to get rewarded because he’s too good a player to not have the puck go in and make plays."