TAMPA — Lightning RW Nikita Kucherov got a taste of the All-Star experience last season in Los Angeles, his first appearance in the game.
So when selected for this year’s game in Tampa on Jan. 28, Kucherov was naturally pumped. He entered Thursday’s game against the Flames tied for the league lead with 27 goals.
"It’s definitely huge for me, being able to represent my team and be around those guys from Russia," said Kucherov, referencing the other All-Stars from his country, a group that this season includes the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin. "It’s something that I will never forget.
"Last year was definitely so much fun. A lot of new experiences, a lot of new people and faces. I felt so much more comfortable after I went there. It was something that everybody dreams about. I’m definitely happy to be there, looking forward to it."
Kucherov is happy for G Andrei Vasilevskiy, a fellow Russian who is making his first All-Star appearance.
"It’s well deserved," Kucherov said. "The way he’s played this year, he’s the top goalie in the league. It’s tough to score on him, even in practice. No surprise he’s in there."
Kucherov smiled: "That’s great for Team Russia."
Just doing his job
LW Chris Kunitz (below) is enjoying his time playing alongside C Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov on the top line. And why not? Scoring opportunities abound when you play with them.
"Every single shift it seems like you feel you have a chance with them out there," Kunitz said. "But I still got play that responsible game and not change the way I play. I have to execute and keep up with them."
Coach Jon Cooper moved up Kunitz during Sunday’s game at Detroit in effort to get Vladislav Namestnikov the chance to return to center playing with Yanni Gourde and Alex Killorn. So Namestnikov was dropped to the third line, and Kunitz was moved to the first.
Kunitz might have been the best option because he is familiar with playing on a line with a superstar — Penguins C Sidney Crosby.
But comparing the Lightning duo to Crosby is like comparing apples to oranges to grapefruit.
"They each play a different style," Kunitz said. "They have their own niches. ‘Kuch’ wants to carry the puck a little bit more. ‘Stammer’ is a bit of a shooter. They wanted somebody who’s going to go out there, work hard and try to get pucks back for them. They don’t need any more skill out there. They just want someone who’s going to go in on forechecks and hunt pucks down for them. It’s something Vlady did well."
On the first day of my vacation
Steven Stamkos was scheduled to travel today to Sarnia, Ontario, to have his jersey retired tonight by his junior team.
Stamkos scored 100 goals and had 197 points during his two seasons playing for the Sarnia Sting in the Canadian League during the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. He received the league’s Top Draft Pick Award after scoring 58 goals and totaling 105 points in 61 games during his second season. The Lightning confirmed that by taking him with the first overall pick in the ensuing draft.
D Dan Girardi (neck) missed his second straight game, the result of taking a puck off the back of his neck Sunday in Detroit. Coach Jon Cooper said before Tuesday’s game against the Hurricanes that Girardi would miss no more than one game, but with the Lightning beginning a five-day break today, the team believed it was best to let him have an extended rest. … D Slater Koekoek and C Cory Conacher were healthy scratches.