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Lightning journal: Kucherov leaves preseason game with lower-body injury

Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov maneuvers against  Panthers center Derek MacKenzie during the first period of Tuesday night's preseason loss. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov maneuvers against Panthers center Derek MacKenzie during the first period of Tuesday night's preseason loss. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Sep. 26, 2018

F Nikita Kucherov played in the first period against the Panthers, but he did not return for the second.

Midway through the second, the Lightning ruled him out for the rest of the game with a lower-body injury.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper did not want to speculate on specifics but said he does not think it is long-term.

It is the preseason, so precautions are No. 1, paramount for us,” Cooper said. 

Kucherov scored 39 goals and added 61 assists last season. His 100 points were third-best in the NHL.

F Mathieu Joseph replaced Kucherov on the line with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat.

Forward Tyler Johnson already missed the game because of an upper-body injury that Cooper expects will keep him out of the preseason.

GM Julien BriseBois said the Lightning are optimistic that Johnson will be ready for the regular season, but it is not guaranteed.

If Kucherov also misses time, the Lightning would open the season without two former all-stars.

Lightning first of many matchups

In case the Panthers and Lightning don't already know each other well, they will two weeks from now.

The two Floridateams will face each other four times from Sept. 25 until Oct. 6 when they play their regular season opener against each other. Three are preseason games — one in Tampa, one in Orlando and one in Sunrise. 
“It could get a little ornery out there,” Cooper said. 
Tempers flared at times already on Tuesday when the four-game series of sorts started at Amalie Arena where the crowd praised multiple occurrences of shoving after the whistle throughout a game in which the Panthers won 3-2. 

In the first two periods, the Lightning went on the power play three times while the Panthers had four power-play opportunities. Of all seven chances, F Adam Erne was the only player who capitalized. He scored off a Mathieu Joseph feed to the slot in the second period. F Alex Killorn later added to the Lightning's lead. F J.T. Miller picked up the assist on both goals.

Then, the Panthers scored three unanswered goals in the third, one of which was a short-handed goal from D Aaron Ekblad.

Cooper philosophy on AHL vs NHL

The Lightning has multiple young players who played Tuesday and are on the roster bubble with the regular season less than two weeks away.
With the Lightning five cuts away from its 23-man roster, several of these young bubble players will likely stick in Tampa early in the regular season. Especially if  Johnson has to miss part of the regular season. Also, F Ryan Callahan won’t return to the lineup any earlier than November.
The question is, would it be better for these young bubble players to be in and out of the lineup in the NHL, playing marginal minutes? Or would they be better served to play significant minutes in Syracuse?
Cooper would argue the latter.
“I think that goes for anything,” he said. “For hockey parents, I don’t see why there’s a rush to push kids up to play at higher levels when they can get more ice and play at the levels of their own age group. There’s nothing wrong with that. The more reps you can get, the better off you will be.”

Cooper added that the competition in the AHL is very similar to the NHL.