Tampa Bay Lightning F Nikita Kucherov’s Slow Start Is Coming To An End

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov had a slow start to his season, but after a pair of goals and assists against the Islanders it appears to be coming to a close.

Throughout the first nine games of the season, Nikita Kucherov had been uncharacteristically quiet.  It seems as though he started his season in a slump as he had recorded only one goal in total during these first few games, which isn’t what was expected from the young sniper.

This was made even more unsettling by the fact that throughout these games, there were five in which the Bolts scored four or more goals, with their largest number so far being seven.  While Nikita Kucherov was injured for one of the nine games so far, this still hasn’t exactly been the start to the season that was expected from him.

To look at this one-dimensionally and only use the stats of one goal and nine games would be doing the situation and the player an injustice.  Of course, it’s is only the beginning of the season and it would be foolish to read too much into this, but a less than favorable trend had started.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning /

Tampa Bay Lightning

It wasn’t the lack of scoring itself that was worrisome, it was the way he was playing that led to the less than desirable outcomes.  Kucherov seemed timid and less eager to take offensive chances as he was when we saw him in a Lightning sweater.

The Nikita Kucherov that Tampa Bay Lightning fans are used to seeing is usually one of the driving forces in the Lightning’s offensive arsenal.  Kucherov is known around the league as someone who can place shots and place them well.

His shot placement is what scored him the majority of his goals last season, especially during the playoffs.  The shots that Kucherov has taken so far this season haven’t been the best opportunities either with a good number missing the net altogether.

He isn’t the tallest or the biggest player on the ice, so he has to rely on his speed and scrap for his opportunities.  This hasn’t shown up too much in his play this season and the big question is why? 

The first thought that came to my head was this could be the repercussions of his contract holdout.  While he played at the World Cup Of Hockey for Team Russia and was well practiced over the off-season, he missed team camp and the Lightning’s preseason games.

This could have thrown him out of sync with his teammates as who knows what he missed during training camp?  His holdout could have even led to some turbulence in the locker room with questions of how dedicated to the team he really was.  While there isn’t any concrete evidence of this, it doesn’t seem all too unlikely given the circumstances.

Whatever the issue was, Nikita Kucherov seems to have shaken it off as he recorded his first multi-goal night of the season, contributing two goals and two assists to the Lightning’s 6-1 win over the New York Islanders.  Both goals coming on the power play, they were very reminiscent of the Nikita Kucherov from the playoffs last year.

His first goal of the night was textbook,.Stamkos gave Nikita Kucherov a perfect pass on the opposite side of the ice and Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss had nowhere to go.  It would have been almost unthinkable for him to miss it, but I’m more concerned about the placement.

He aimed his shot for where the goalie wouldn’t be even if Greiss managed to get back across, which was perfectly top shelf.  His second goal somehow managed to squeeze between the inside pipe and the blocker of Greiss and go top shelf even while the focus was on him.  Picking corners is Nikita Kucherov’s style and it was back in full form.

All in all, there’s no reason to be worried about Nikita Kucherov and his production.  The most likely reason for his slow start is that he just needed to warm up get himself going this season.

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Now that he has readjusted to his team and gotten back to his play style, I think he’ll be right back to his old self in no time.  If last night’s game was any indication, he’ll even come back on a hot streak.  As last season proved, a hot Nikita Kucherov is the last thing any NHL goalie wants to face.