Tampa Bay Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper made a bold statement on Tuesday night by benching the team’s leading point-scorer, Nikita Kucherov.
The Tampa Bay Lightning has been a lot of things this season, but consistent is not one of them. Well, unless you consider being perfectly inconsistent a form of consistency. It’s become glaringly apparent something has to change if the team wants to climb the standings and have a chance at the postseason.
The Lightning had a 3-2 lead over the Ottawa Senators as the two Atlantic Division rivals headed into the final minutes of the second period. Regrettably, an ill-timed turnover by Nikita Kucherov led to the Senators tying the game and eventually forcing what could’ve been an easy win for the Bolts into an overtime period.
Surprisingly, as the Lightning took the ice for the third period, the team’s leading point-scorer seemed to be absent from the ice. Given the way things have gone for the Bolts as of late, fans became increasingly concerned the 26-year-old Russian forward had sustained some sort of injury.
Thankfully, this is not what actually transpired. At the same time, the truth of the matter is slightly more shocking than any sort of injury storyline.
It turns out, Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper actually elected to keep Nikita Kucherov off the ice for the remainder of the game. In the post-game press conference, Cooper said he had to do “what was best for the team to win the game” and this is where they landed.
While it’s always risky sitting the team’s leading point-scorer when a game is on the line, we have to agree with Coach Cooper here that this was the best decision for the team as a whole. A move like this sends a message to the locker room as a whole that no one, not even the defending Hart Trophy winner, is immune to sitting the bench if they’re not playing to the best of their abilities.
One of the biggest issues we have had with the team this season is what seemed like a serious lack of accountability for one’s actions. Jon Cooper making a decision like this and having a player like Nikita Kucherov warm the bench for the remainder of the third period and the overtime period is a huge move and a bold statement to everyone in the locker room as well as everyone in the Bolts Nation.
According to The Athletic’s Joe Smith, Nikita Kucherov was requested by the media following the Lightning’s 4-3 overtime victory over the Senators, but the media’s request was declined. The big question now is how Kucherov will respond to this adversity.
Essentially, there are two ways this can play out. Either Nikita Kucherov is going to learn from this experience and come back with a renewed purpose and continue to be the elite-level player we all know he is, or he could simply carry this enormous chip on his shoulder and allow it to bog him down for the remainder of the season.
Judging by what we know of Nikita Kucherov, we can’t exactly see the latter being the scenario that plays out.
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The Tampa Bay Lightning makes their way back into Amalie Arena tomorrow night to take on former Lightning netminder Ben Bishop and the Dallas Stars. Hopefully, Cooper’s decision in last night’s encounter with the Senators will re-ignite the fire within Nikita Kucherov, and the rest of the locker room, and we’ll see a solid 60-minute effort from the team.