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Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov, Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk have mutual admiration

Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) shoots and scores on a 5 on 3 power play for the first goal of the game against the Ottawa Senators during first period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Thursday evening (12/10/15).

DIRK SHADD | Times

Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) shoots and scores on a 5 on 3 power play for the first goal of the game against the Ottawa Senators during first period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Thursday evening (12/10/15).

TAMPA — For Lightning RW Nikita Kucherov, it's still a thrill playing against Red Wings C Pavel Datsyuk.

Kucherov said Datsyuk was one of his favorite players growing up in Russia, believing the two-time Stanley Cup champion would make things look so easy.

"Just watching what he does on the ice and what he does in the defensive zone, you try to pick some stuff up," Kucherov said.

And the admiration appears mutual. Datsyuk is impressed with how Kucherov has developed in his third NHL season, entering Tuesday with 27 goals.

"He's really improved," Datsyuk said. "He really has confidence now, and makes a lot of good decisions on the ice, especially in the tough times. He's just growing, he's really talented and a good worker."

Datsyuk is known as one of the league's top two-way forwards, a three-time Selke Award winner. And Datsyuk sees growth in that part of Kucherov's game too. Kucherov was tied for first in the NHL in plus-minus last season at plus-38, and is plus-5 this season.

"It's not easy to play a two-way game," Datsyuk said. "I think he's steady, every game, every year, he just takes one step."

MEDICAL MATTERS: RW Ryan Callahan (lower body) and C Valtteri Filppula (upper body) missed Tuesday's game against Detroit, but coach Jon Cooper indicated they could be back by this weekend.

Filppula, sidelined for four games, continues to skate with the team, though in a different-colored jersey. Callahan missed his second consecutive game. "Hopefully on the weekend for him," Cooper said.

There's never a good time for injuries, but with 10 games to go in a fight for playoff position, missing two veterans is difficult. The Lightning entered Tuesday two points out of first place in the Atlantic Division but just five ahead of the Flyers for the ninth spot in the Eastern Conference.

"You don't like to have guys out, especially when you're battling for a playoff spot," Cooper said. "It's so tight, aside from (East leader) Washington, nobody really has a whole ton of breathing room. You're battling every single night."

STEPPING IN: With Callahan out, Jonathan Marchessault has an opportunity on the second line with Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, the trio forming quick chemistry. Marchessault had six shots Saturday against Arizona.

"He can make plays, he's right handed, which helps," Cooper said of Marchessault. "He makes plays for them. He's a shooter. And those two guys can find you. They've just, for whatever reason, they've kind of meshed together in a short time they've been together."

NUTS AND BOLTS: C Vladislav Namestnikov wore a full cage mask during the skate after a puck hit him in the jaw on Saturday. "You grow up playing in a cage," Namestnikov said. "So you get used to it I guess." … RW Mike Blunden was scratched. … A pregame moment of silence honored victims of the terrorist attack in Belgium. … Tampa Bay signed D Ben Thomas to a three-year entry level deal.

Contact Joe Smith at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov, Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk have mutual admiration 03/22/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 7:31pm]
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