Saturday, January 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Confidence starting to flow for Lightning's Kucherov

TAMPA — You could sense it early Tuesday night.

Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov was feeling it.

Take his second goal in the 6-1 win over the Islanders. On a power play, Kucherov darted from the blue line into the left circle. Using defenseman Johnny Boychuk as a screen, Kucherov slipped a wrist shot into a tiny opening by goalie Thomas Greiss' blocker. "That was a 'Kuch' goal," coach Jon Cooper said. "There wasn't much room. Only a few guys that could put those in."

But it was more than Kucherov's scoring, his four points (two goals, two assists) matching a career high. He was a beast at both ends of the ice, from board battles to backchecks, the most encouraging sign the 23-year-old Russian is finding his groove. "This was Kuch's best game of the year," Cooper said. "He commanded the puck. Every time he went into the pile, he came out with it."

It has been a weird start to the season for Kucherov. There was a contract saga that lingered all summer and through September's World Cup of Hockey. It ended two days before the season opener, when the restricted free agent settled for a three-year "bridge" deal — one with a lower cap hit until he gets closer to unrestricted free agency and can increase his value or leverage — worth $4.67 million annually.

Kucherov rushed to Tampa Bay on a flight from Russia, where he was holding out. A delay forced him to spend an extra-night layover in New York. Kucherov made it to the final practice of training camp, but it should come as no surprise as he felt rusty in the first few games of the regular season. Having not played a game in three weeks, his legs felt heavy. His hands were "bad."

Kucherov said he began feeling good in Ottawa on Oct. 22, the opener of the six-game road trip that ended Tuesday. A four-point performance against Toronto came three days later. But an upper-body injury suffered Oct. 27 in Montreal threatened to slow him; it forced him to miss one game. So getting two first-period goals Tuesday was a big boost.

"Kuch is a guy that you want him that confident," said captain Steven Stamkos, Kucherov's linemate. "You want him to get touches early, especially coming off that little injury he had. When you have a game where you get some points, you start to feel good about your game. It's only going to help."

As gifted as Kucherov is — goalie Ben Bishop says he's one of the most skilled players in the league — it starts with his underrated two-way game. His dazzling display with the puck is sparked by his play without it.

"You care about (defense) first, and then think about offense," Kucherov said. "You've got to protect your net. Goals will come."

Tuesday's goals gave Kucherov three and a team-high-matching 12 points in 10 games heading into tonight's showdown with Boston at Amalie Arena. "He was on top of his skating, winning 50-50 (battles)," Cooper said. "When that's going on for Kuch, he's a special player. So hopefully there's more to come."

DROUIN UPDATE: Wing Jonathan Drouin was considered day-to-day and apparently feeling better after leaving Tuesday's game in the first following a high hit by Islanders defenseman Calvin de Haan. De Haan won't have a league disciplinary hearing.

Comments
Lightning falls to Wild, its fifth loss in seven games

Lightning falls to Wild, its fifth loss in seven games

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Lightning said all the right things about needing to look in the mirror and do some soul-searching during its recent funk. Veterans said they had to lead the way. Coach Jon Cooper believed this eight-game trip would "show us wha...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Mikhail Sergachev gets thrown into the fire for Lightning

Mikhail Sergachev gets thrown into the fire for Lightning

ST. PAUL, Minn. — For the first 20-plus games this season, Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness knew "the look" was coming.The other team’s top line would jump over the boards and Tampa Bay rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev would peek over at Bow...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Missing the Olympics a missed opportunity (and misstep) for NHL?

Missing the Olympics a missed opportunity (and misstep) for NHL?

One week from today, Tampa will be the center of the hockey world.The All-Star Game will be held at Amalie Arena. Players will smile for the cameras. They'll put on a fantastic show. Maybe they'll catch a bead or two from a Gasparilla parade.But you ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Andrei Vasilevskiy: ‘I have to be better’

Andrei Vasilevskiy: ‘I have to be better’

The rest of the Lightning players had already left the ice Friday afternoon, heading into the dressing room for a quick change before the team's charter flight to Minnesota.But goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, 23, stayed on late, facing about 15 minutes mo...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Fennelly: Lightning needs a reset on the road … pronto

Fennelly: Lightning needs a reset on the road … pronto

TAMPA — Vegas has left the building.Wasn't the Lightning just arranging place settings for next weekend's NHL All-Star Game party?With that in mind, I headed to the home dressing room at Amalie Arena late Thursday after the Lightning was manhan...
Published: 01/19/18
Updated: 01/20/18
Golden Knights move within one point of Lightning for top spot in NHL

Golden Knights move within one point of Lightning for top spot in NHL

SUNRISE — Aaron Ekblad scored 40 seconds into overtime to lift the Panthers to a 4-3 victory over the Golden Knights on Friday, spoiling Vegas coach Gerard Gallant’s return to Florida. By gaining a point, Vegas moved within one point of the Lightning...
Published: 01/19/18
Time for Lightning leaders to snap team out of funk

Time for Lightning leaders to snap team out of funk

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Steven Stamkos sat at his stall in a near-empty Lightning dressing room Thursday and did what captains often do:He shouldered some blame for the Lightning's listless 4-1 loss to Vegas."As a leader, I've got to be a lot better,...
Published: 01/19/18
Why I hate the NHL All-Star Game

Why I hate the NHL All-Star Game

TAMPA — The NHL All-Star Game is coming to town next weekend, reaffirming our community's ability to step into the breach when needed. We don't stop until we get the Winter Olympics. So, don't be surprised if those next Rays stadium plans ...
Published: 01/19/18
Steven Stamkos: ‘I have to be a lot better’

Steven Stamkos: ‘I have to be a lot better’

There was plenty of blame to go around after the Lightning's 4-1 loss to the Golden Knights Thursday night.This loss wasn't on one person, no question.But captain Steven Stamkos showed some leadership by shouldering some responsibility for the team's...
Published: 01/19/18
Lightning falls to Golden Knights

Lightning falls to Golden Knights

TAMPA — The door to the Lightning dressing room remained closed a little longer than usual Thursday night, and that wasn’t surprising. After the kind of performance displayed in its 4-1 loss to the expansion Golden Knights, this had team...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18