For the previous 10 games that J.T. Brown and Nikita Kucherov skated with the Tampa Bay Lightning their effort did not quite matchup with what was on the score sheet.
“The coaching staff was frustrated, not in the sense that we were mad, but it was too bad they were getting these chances and they weren’t going in,” head coach Jon Cooper said.
The pair finally had their breakthrough game though, as they contributed a goal and an assist on a combined five shots Tuesday night in Washington. Since Kucherov’s first career game with Tampa Bay on November 25 versus the New York Rangers, the two have amassed 31 shots on goal between them.
“I thought last game they both played really great,” Nate Thompson said. “They’re both hard on pucks and skating well. We’ve all been working well together and just making sure there’s a lot of communication.”
The two began skating on a line with Thompson on Tuesday against the Washington Capitals and the trio saw instant results.
“We lost the game, but a big reason we were in it and really had some things going was because we had that line,” Cooper said. “If we want to have success, we need them.”
One area especially, the “dirty” areas - the corners of the ice and along the boards - where Cooper has preached the Bolts need to go to more often, has been their specialty.
“You just have to want the puck,” Brown said. “You’re going to get the puck in those areas, so if you want the puck you have to go there.”
Kucherov’s first career shootout goal, immediately after Caps captain Alex Ovechkin was denied by netminder Ben Bishop, was the perfect way to put a cap on the night for the 20-year-old breaking into the pros just a few months ago.
“If you have any indication of what’s going on in that kid’s head, just watch his shootout goal,” Cooper said. “Not many guys are going to pull that off, especially in their first 10 games of the year and he did it with ease, grace and confidence. The sky’s the limit for him.”
PANIK HANDED TWO-GAME SUSPENSION
It seemed like the fact that Caps defenseman Karl Alzner was not hurt on Richard Panik’s check into the boards or the fact that Ovechkin scored two power-play goals after the Bolts’ rookie was assessed a five-minute boarding major may have been a good enough punishment.
Yet the league decided Wednesday evening that the hit came while Alzner was in a vulnerable position and that Panik should be suspended without pay for two games.
“I didn’t expect two games,” Panik said. “I’m just glad Alzner is okay, I’m really happy about that. Now I just have to accept my suspension and move on from here.”
It is another dose of bad luck for the forward, who was in his first game back since being a healthy scratch for two prior.
“Frustrated is probably the right word,” head coach Jon Cooper said on how Panik was feeling.
As his only coach during the forward’s time in the pros (AHL/NHL), Cooper said that Panik’s recent woes have been something he has dealt with his whole career, but that he’s becoming “more consistent at being consistent.”
“I fully expect him to jump back in when he gets out of his suspension,” Cooper said. “When you sit in the stands for four to five games, you have a pretty clear indication of what needs to get better.”
Panik must get more involved on the ice. Cooper said for a guy who gets as much ice time as he does, he needs to get more shots on net.
ODDS ‘N ENDS
It is likely that Victor Hedman will miss at least another full week due to a lower body injury and the team said they were leaning on the side of him not traveling on their upcoming road trip, which kicks off Saturday in New Jersey.
According to Cooper, P.C. Labrie (upper body) could be available Thursday, but his status for the game against the Detroit Red Wings was undecided.
There is a good possibility that the Lightning will skate with 11 forwards and seven defensemen Thursday. Ben Bishop is also expected to start.