The Lightning Need “Time To Adjust” Without Kucherov On The Power Play

TAMPA, FL. – The Lightning were in a familiar spot Tuesday night. That is to say they were playing without the services of Nikita Kucherov.

And it showed.

The Lightning went 0-for-6 on the power play in a 4-1 loss to the Panthers at Amalie Arena. They failed to connect on a two-man advantage for 1:34 in the first period.

“It’s not a secret we are missing one of the best power play guys on the planet right now,” said Steven Stamkos, following the game. “Our first game (without Kucherov), we have to work some things out. We are not panicking over it. It is going to take some time to adjust. We did it last year.”

Heading into last season, the Lightning knew they would be without Kucherov, who sat out the pandemic-shortened 56-game schedule due to a right hip injury. He returned for the postseason and recorded 32 points in 23 games in helping lead the Lightning to their second Stanley Cup in nine months. He had four goals and 15 assists with the man advantage during the playoff run.

The superstar right wing, who had a goal and three assists in the team’s first three games, left the ice during the third period of Sunday’s game at Washington with a lower-body injury. He was placed on long-term injured reserve Tuesday, which means Kucherov will miss at least 10 games. The earliest the 28-year-old Russian can return is November 15 against the visiting Islanders.

It is always disappointing when a world-class player is sidelined. That is especially the case with Kucherov, one the Lightning’s core players and nothing less than a magician with the puck.

“It’s frustrating, more for him, because I know the work it took him to get back (last season),” said coach Jon Cooper, following Monday’s practice. “He was rewarded in the end with hoisting the Stanley Cup again, but I know he was looking forward to a big year….I feel for him, but let’s wait and see what happens.”

In the meantime, others will have to pitch in. Thanks to the salary cap, the Lightning are not as deep as they were the past couple of seasons. That cupboard is far from bare, however.

“It is something that is not ideal, but we are comfortable with it because we have gone through it,” said Cooper, whose team connected on 22.2 percent of its power play opportunities without Kucherov last season, good for ninth in the NHL.

On Tuesday night, Corey Perry took Kucherov’s spot on the top line with Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point.

Perry, who signed to a two-year, $2-million deal at the end of July, saw first-hand how lethal the Lightning are when everybody is in the lineup. The 36-year-old forward, a 50-goal scorer with Anaheim a decade ago, was with the Montreal Canadiens last season when the Bolts defeated them in five games to win the Cup.

“They did it last year without (Kucherov),” he said on Monday. “They found a way. Everybody bought into the system. He got back, he got healthy and away they went. It’s just a matter of finding that little bit of depth and little bit of courage to pick him up.”

The Lightning power play failed to pick up anything against the Panthers. That said, it was the first game without Kucherov and there are a couple of days to work on things before the Bolts host Colorado on Saturday night.

“Our power play runs through him,” said Point, of Kucherov, on Tuesday night. “We didn’t get a ton of time to work on the PP without him, so it will be a work in progress. There are things we are going to have to iron out and (Tuesday night) was not good. Simplifying is going to be the key to our powerplay. It might not be tic-tac-toe goals that we are going to be scoring. I think the more we can get the puck to the net with some traffic and maybe try to bang in some greasy ones, I think that’s the way it is going to have to be.”

The Lightning will likely figure it out. They did not win back-to-back Cups without overcoming adversity, which they had plenty of while winning it all during a pandemic and despite key injuries.

“We have a good group and we will be fine,” said Cooper. “Our work ethic and everything has been excellent.”

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