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Expected fireworks fizzle out for Tampa Bay Lightning in first game without Nikita Kucherov





by Erik Erlendsson | @Erik_Erlendsson | Like us on Facebook
October 14, 2021

TAMPA  – .The Sunshine State Showdown figured to provide some fireworks in the first meeting of the regular season.

Instead, it fizzled out for the Tampa Bay Lightning and turned into mainly a dud.

Tampa Bay remained winless at home on the season following a 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers where the void of Nikita Kucherov felt like a major chasm in need of some bridge work to overcome.

{mprestriction ids=”1,2″}The Lightning placed Kucherov on Long Term Injury on Tuesday with no timetable yet established for his return, though a stint on LTI requires a player miss a minimum of 10 games and 24 days before being eligible to return, which pits the earliest Kucherov could return would be November 13. Indications at this point are that Kucherov will miss more time than LTI requires as they await further opinions and information on the injury.

But no matter the amount of time he will miss, the Lightning are going to have to do a much better job of dealing with his absence than they did on Tuesday against Florida.

Not that it was a complete disaster for Tampa Bay, which played without Kucherov for the full 56-game regular season earlier this year.

The Lightning, at even strength, played a pretty even game. During 5-on-5 play, the shot attempts were a manageable 39-35 for the Panthers while the scoring chances were 23-20 for Florida. Tampa Bay held the advantage in high danger chances at 8-5. The expected goals were 1.45 to 1.44 in favor of Florida.

“Nothing we can do about it now, other than hope it’s not too long for him and that he gets healthy quick,” captain Steven Stamkos said of Kucherov’s absence. “So we’ll continue to work hard like because I liked most of our game.”

The even-strength game was fine and the Lightning might have had the better quality chances, which included a pair of breakaway chances – one by Pat Maroon the other by Stamkos.

But it was on the power play where the game was, essentially lost by Tampa Bay.

The power play went a 0-for-6 in the game, failing to convert on a total of 10:26, which included 1:34 of a 5-on-3 advantage in the second period.

It’s the first time in the regular season the Lightning have had at least six power play chances in a game and failed to convert since going 0-for-7 on Dec. 21, 2019, at the Washington Capitals in a 3-1 loss.

“We’re missing out on probably the best half-wall player in the game, our power play runs through him,” center Brayden Point said. “We didn’t get a ton of time to work on it without him so it’s gonna be a work in progress, there’s going to be things we’re gonna have to iron out. But tonight it wasn’t good. it was a lot of chances but no looks.”

The Lightning had a total of 10 shot attempts on their extensive power play time at 5-on-4, but only two scoring chances and one high danger chance. During the two-man advantage, Tampa Bay twice lost the puck in the offensive zone, one buy simply being out-battled for the puck  in a one-on-one situation along the boards, and had three shots on goal and four attempts total.

“The five and three was working pretty well when Kuch is there it’s just, it happened so quick,” Stamkos said. “We’re used to having some plays and we have some set plays and now guys are kind of all over the place. So it is one of those things, it’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to capitalize but we have some guys that can still make some plays and move the puck around. We’ll have to focus on maybe simplifying a little bit and getting some more shots.”

Taking away Kucherov takes away the quarterback from the half-wall. He is the focal point that opposing penalty kill units try to take away. Kucherov is the magician that waves his wand to make things happen.

“It’s no secret we’re missing one of the best power play guys on the planet right now,” Stamkos said. “Obviously there’s going to be some adjustments and some guys moving in and out of position and especially on the powerplay without Kuch, so we’ll work on it. We’re not too concerned. We got guys that can fill in, but having said that it certainly cost us tonight not executing and just not generating enough on those chances.

“First game, we got to work some things out, we’re not panicking over it but it’s going to just take some time to adjust. We did it last year.”

They lived without Kucherov for the 56-game season last year and the power did click at 22-percent, though it did fade down the stretch when Stamkos also missed time. And the five top power play performers on the ice on Tuesday were the same five-man unit that ran the show at the start of last year with Ondrej Palat taking Kucherov’s spot at the right circle.

Last season there was the benefit of having the abbreviated camp to work on things knowing Kucherov wouldn’t be available. This time around, there was on day of practice, even if a good portion of it was spent on power play work.

There is a difference, even if it’s the same personnel.

“We can’t just slip right back into last year, this is this year,” head coach Jon Cooper said. “We had ample more time to work on things beforehand. Now, the power play with Kuch and without Kuch, last year, it actually was pretty darn good for most of the year it slid probably the last month and a half. Hopefully it’s going to do that  . . we’ll get that figured out.”

Postgame notes: Tampa Bay has allowed the opening goal in all four games to start the season. … The Lightning opened the scoring in only one of seven preseason games. … C Brayden Point scored his first goal of the season, the latest he’s gone in to a season before scoring his first goal since his rookie season in 2016-17. … D Ryan McDonagh appeared in his 200th career game in a Lightning uniform.

My three stars:

1. Panthers C Anton Lundell – Goal, assist, plus-2, 10-for-18 on faceoffs, 4:15 of shorthanded ice time

2. Panthers G Spencer Knight – Finished with 30 saves, 14 in the third period

3. Lightning C Steven Stamkos – Six shots on goal, nine shot attempts, 14-of-18 on faceoffs


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