LIGHTNING (16-13-3) at CAPITALS (22-6-2)
TV: CSN-DC, SUN
WASHINGTON -- Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov has faced his share of challenges this season but enters the game Friday against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center having scored six goals in his past six games.
Kucherov leads the Lightning in goals with 12 and points with 20, but has had to adjust to playing with new linemates after his usual cohorts, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, were injured. Palat has missed two games and Johnson has missed three, each with an undisclosed injury. Johnson, Palat and Kucherov, known together as "The Triplets," played together most of last season.
Kucherov is currently on a line with Steven Stamkos and Vladislav Namestnikov, and Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he's been impressed by the maturity and adaptability the 22-year old has shown through the process.
"He's pushed his game to another level," Cooper said. "Don't get me wrong, he's the first guy to tell you he can't wait for Palat and Johnson to come back, but he's finding chemistry with [Namestnikov] and [Stamkos] and you need that, because there's no guarantee that lines are going to stick together for the whole year. What happened last year, I don't want to say it's rare, but it's great that we have that in our back pocket. You've got to be able to play with other players and I think that [Kucherov] is coming to terms with that and he's flourishing."
Capitals coach Barry Trotz has taken notice too. Kucherov has five points in his past four games and scored a power-play goal in a 2-1 loss to the Capitals on Dec. 12.
"Every time we play the Lightning, I come away from that game going, 'That guy's a top-end player,'" Trotz said. "He's a dynamic player. He's definitely a first- or second-line, top-six player, for sure, and he is dangerous. When he's on the ice, something happens. You've got an appreciation for those type of guys and he's got some bite to him. He doesn't back off when you come at him physically. I've got a lot of admiration for him. He's got tremendous instincts and skills and he can really rip the puck too."
Lightning forward Erik Condra skated Thursday and is listed as a game-time decision. Condra has missed five games with a lower-body injury. Forward Mike Angelidis was recalled from Syracuse of the American League on Thursday in case Condra doesn't play.
The Capitals reassigned defenseman Aaron Ness back to Hershey of the American League and recalled defenseman Connor Carrick on Thursday.
The Lightning reassigned goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to Syracuse on Thursday and recalled Kristers Gudlevskis to back up Bishop against the Capitals on Friday and the Ottawa Senators on Sunday.
Here are the projected lineups:
Vladislav Namestnikov - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
J.T. Brown - Valtteri Filppula - Ryan Callahan
Alex Killorn - Brian Boyle - Jonathan Marchessault
Yanni Gourde - Erik Condra - Mike Blunden
Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman
Jason Garrison - Matt Carle
Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr
Injured: Joel Vermin (hand), Cedric Paquette (upper body), Tyler Johnson (undisclosed), Jonathan Drouin (lower body), Ondrej Palat (undisclosed)
Scratched: Mike Angelidis, Nikita Nesterov
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams
Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson
Brooks Laich- Michael Latta - Andre Burakovsky
Nate Schmidt - John Carlson
Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner
Dmitry Orlov - Taylor Chorney
Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body)
Scratched: Stanislav Galiev, Chris Brown, Connor Carrick
Status update: Vermin had successful hand surgery Thursday and will miss 6-8 weeks. … Wilson is in the lineup after the match penalty he was assessed against the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday was rescinded Friday.
Who's hot: Killorn has two points in his past two games. … Chimera will play in his 900th NHL game against the Lightning. … Carlson has five points in his past four games