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Atlantic Division notebook

Nikita Kucherov finds footing with Lightning; power play wakes up for Bruins

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The first four games of the season were like a training camp for Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov. He hadn't had camp with the Lightning because he was without a contract. But two days before the season began, the restricted free agent signed a three-year bridge contract, and by Oct. 13 against the Detroit Red Wings, he was on the ice after a single preseason practice.

So Kucherov needed some time to ease in having been in Moscow since the conclusion of the World Cup of Hockey 2016, when he did not practice much. That fact was even more worrisome, given that Kucherov felt he has struggled a bit at the start of the last couple of seasons.

In those first four games, Kucherov had two assists. Since then? Since his version of training camp ended, Kucherov has four goals and nine assists in 10 games, including three goals and four assists in three games this past week, which led to him being named NHL First Star.

"This year seems to be better," he said of his start. "I'm happy about that."

His surge matched a surge for the Lightning, who earned five of six possible points in the three games, before losing 3-1 to the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center on Monday.

"Obviously, it was kind of tough transition at the beginning," Kucherov said. "The more I played, I was filled [with] more confidence and more comfortable. Just trying to play simple, just trying to enjoy my time here. Great to be back with the team and be in the room with these guys."

Video: TBL@NYI: Kucherov snaps puck in for PPG

The talent of the 23-year-old forward is undeniable, and it's only getting better after a season when Kucherov led the Lightning with 66 points in 77 games, including an NHL career-high 30 goals after scoring 29 in 2014-2015.

"[Kucherov] is one of those players, he's extremely dynamic, and if you saw the goal he scored the other night, it was like he was shot out of a gun when he went down the ice," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "He just can make plays at a really high rate of speed.

"But the one thing for him is he has the ability to make other guys better, and if you look at his goal-to-assist ratio, usually he's got a few more goals and a few less assists, but he's really helping his teammates out, because pucks are going to go in for him. We just keep telling him, 'You've got to shoot the puck. Be more selfish.' Because when he shoots, the puck has eyes."

For now, Kucherov is content to help his teammates out, including linemates Vladislav Namestnikov and Steven Stamkos. Namestnikov has two goals this season, and Stamkos has seven, which leads the Lightning.

But that's not the only reason that Kucherov is so valuable to the Lightning, and why Tampa Bay was happy to get him back after an absence on Oct. 29 because of an upper-body injury. He was back a day later and has continued to soar.

"The biggest thing for me is how do you play away from the puck and how you're playing in your own end," Cooper said. "All that other stuff he has, those abilities, they just blossom when he's in the offensive zone, but what are you doing away from that? How are you putting yourself into position to play offense? That's where he's really grown the last couple years. I play him in every situation: Up a goal, down a goal, he can see the ice."


Bruins power play comes to life

Eleven games into the 2015-16 season, the Boston Bruins had scored 13 power-play goals in 40 chances, a 34.2 percent success rate. Eleven games into this season, the Bruins had scored three power-play goals in 38 chances, a 7.9 percent success rate.

Heading into their game against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday, the Bruins were 29th in the NHL in power-play percentage, ahead of the Vancouver Canucks (7.7 percent), and the trend was starting to grow worrisome.

They had, in fact, allowed as many goals to be scored against them while on the power play (three), including two to the New York Rangers on Saturday, as they had scored on the power play (also three).

But things turned around against Buffalo, with Boston getting three goals on the power play, from left wing Brad Marchand, center David Krejci and right wing David Pastrnak, equaling their output from the first three weeks of the season in a single game. They had spent much of their morning skate Monday working on getting their issues straightened out.

Video: BUF@BOS: Marchand scores a PPG through traffic

It was a significant turn for a team whose coach, Claude Julien, had said on Saturday, "Our power play hasn't been up to par, we know that and we've got to fix that."

It appears they did. Or, at least, the early returns are good.

It had been something that had started to frustrate the Bruins, especially given how good they were on the power play last season. Though the Bruins could not keep up their early-season success rate, they finished 7th in the NHL (20.5 percent) despite getting the third-fewest power-play chances in the League.

"We know we have a great power play -- proved that last year -- but it's got to click," Marchand said Saturday.

On Monday, it started to do just that.


Stat Pack

Among players who have played in at least half of their team's games, Montreal Canadiens forward Torrey Mitchell leads the NHL in shooting percentage, connecting on 55.6 of his shots. Mitchell has five goals on nine shots this season. His NHL career shooting percentage is 9.5, though he scored on 15.9 percent of his shots last season, scoring 11 times. … The Toronto Maple Leafs lead the League in average shots on goal per game (34.5). They also are allowing the sixth-most shots per game (32.5).


Games to watch

Boston Bruins at Montreal Canadiens (Nov. 8, 7:30 p.m. ET; SNE, RDS, NESN, NHL.TV) -- It's Boston-Montreal. That automatically qualifies it as a game to watch.

Detroit Red Wings at Montreal Canadiens (Nov. 12, 7 p.m. ET; SN, TVA Sports, FS-D, NHL.TV) -- The Canadiens and the Red Wings are the top two teams in the Atlantic Division, though neither was necessarily picked to start the season quite this strong. Both have impressed early, however.

Toronto Maple Leafs at Pittsburgh Penguins (Nov. 12, 7 p.m. ET; NHLN-US, HNIC, ROOT, NHL.TV) -- Sidney Crosby and Pittsburgh gets its first look at Auston Matthews and Toronto.

Montreal Canadiens at Chicago Blackhawks (Nov. 13, 7 p.m. ET; SN, WGN, RDS, NHL.TV) -- Andrew Shaw heads back to Chicago to take on the only NHL team he had played for before being traded to Montreal on June 24.

Florida Panthers at New York Rangers (Nov. 20, 7 p.m. ET; MSG, FS-F, NHL.TV) -- Keith Yandle returns to Madison Square Garden where he played for the Rangers for parts of the past two seasons. New York gave up quite a bit to get the defenseman in 2014-2015, trading Anthony Duclair, John Moore, and first- and second-round picks to the Arizona Coyotes.

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