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Stamkos: Line's falloff just temporary

DIRK SHADD   |   Times   Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) celebrates his goal along with center Vladislav Namestnikov (90) and center Steven Stamkos (91) as he scores the second Lightning goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets during first period action at Amalie Arena in Tampa Saturday evening (11/04/17).
DIRK SHADD | Times Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) celebrates his goal along with center Vladislav Namestnikov (90) and center Steven Stamkos (91) as he scores the second Lightning goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets during first period action at Amalie Arena in Tampa Saturday evening (11/04/17).
Published Nov. 27, 2017

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said it's easy to get frustrated when you just look at the top line's recent production.

The trio of Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov — which dominated the league the first six weeks — has just four points in the past four games (all on power play). The Lightning has lost three of its past four and two straight.

But when Stamkos and his linemates watched video of recent games, it wasn't so discouraging. The chances were there, whether it was Stamkos' partial breakaway Saturday, Kucherov's point-blank shot or Namestnikov hitting the post.

"Sometimes, in the game it's hard not to get frustrated," Stamkos said. "But then you go watch, and say, 'You know, we actually had some decent chances.'

"The play that made me laugh a little bit was when (Namestnikov) fanned on that chance in the slot (Saturday). It was the exact same play we had in San Jose, and if it goes in, everyone is talking about what a great play that was."

Kucherov, who ranks second in the league with 17 goals, has gone four straight games without one, his frustration showing. Coach Jon Cooper noted how other teams are adjusting, focusing a lot of attention on the Lightning's top line.

"You're a fool if you don't game plan a bit around players as hot as them," Islanders coach Doug Weight said.

Fox Sports Sun analyst Brian Engblom pointed out how opponents are doing a better job keeping track of Stamkos and Kucherov when they don't have the puck, not letting them get lost. Opponents are also taking away that seam, cross-zone pass.

But Stamkos said the line is more encouraged after their film sessions and conversations the past few days.

"When you go watch afterwards, sometimes it's not as bad as you think when you're going through a little bit of a tough patch in terms of production. We're still getting chances. They're not always going to go in. You know it's not going to last the whole season."

Dotchin still out

D Jake Dotchin will continue to be sidelined until at least Saturday's game against the Sharks. Dotchin has missed the past three games with an undisclosed injury, and while he's eligible to come off injured reserve tonight against the Sabres, Cooper said the second-year pro won't play tonight or Wednesday, the trip's finale in Boston.

Cooper has said Dotchin's injury was a "freak" thing, but it's not considered serious.

"I don't think so," Cooper said. "But it is serious enough that he's now going to miss three to five in a row. You never want to see that."

The Lightning has missed Dotchin, who typically plays in the top pairing with All-Star Victor Hedman. Dotchin has balanced out the blueline, allowing the other two pairs to comfortably slot in. At Monday's practice, thee pairings were changed, with Hedman reunited with long-time partner Anton Stralman. Dan Girardi and Braydon Coburn stayed together, while rookie Mikhail Sergachev alternated with Andrej Sustr and Slater Koekkoek.

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Nuts and bolts

• The type of jump and chatter shown at Monday's hour-long practice in Buffalo resembled more of a team on a roll than one that has dropped three of four. It looked a lot like Tampa Bay did in the first month and a half of the season. "We lost two in a row, but things are still good," W Ryan Callahan said. "We enjoy working, we have fun out there. That's not going to change."

• RW J.T. Brown, who missed the past two games with an undisclosed injury, said he's good to go for tonight's game. He rejoined a line with Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn. The rest of the lines remained the same.

• The Lightning spent a chunk of Monday's practice focusing on special teams; Tampa Bay squandered two four-minute man advantages the past three games and allowed three 5-on-3 goals in Saturday's 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com.

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