TAMPA — After sitting out five consecutive games and seven of the past eight as a healthy scratch, rookie RW Nikita Kucherov wsa back in the lineup Monday against the Ottawa Senators.
Kucherov, 20, lost a bit of his confidence during a 14-game goal drought before sitting out a pair of games. He played on March 13 against Florida, but sat the past five games.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said it’s all part of the process Kucherov needs to go through to adjust to the NHL in his first professional season.
“He’s 20, so I think he’s taken a huge step as it is just to play however many games he has played,’’ Cooper said. “He’s learning about the NHL. Kucherov played (17) games in the American Hockey League, so he’s learning pro and everything he’s been doing has been two thumbs up from me.’’
The last goal Kucherov scored came on Jan. 19. For a player who registered his first career goal on his first shot on his first NHL shift after dominating in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the AHL, the prolonged offensive drought has been difficult.
But he said he doesn’t want to put excess pressure on himself to light the lamp.
“I just want to play simple, and be in the right position, play 200 feet, like Coach says,” said Kucherov, who scored 13 goals and 24 points in 17 AHL games with Syracuse. “I don’t think about scoring, just be in the right position, play simple. Goals, I don’t really think about goals.’’
Cooper has little concern about Kucherov in the long term, even if there are some growing pains in the short term.
“He’s not disappointing me in the slightest,’’ Cooper said. “He’s just so used to dominating, he played in a league (QMJHL) where he scored two points a game to a league where he’s not having as much success. But it’s the National Hockey League, so he’ll be fine.’’
Kucherov promptly ended his scoring drought, finishing off a play by Tyler Johnson to notch his ninth goal of the season, and first since Jan. 19 at Carolina, at 5:07 of the first period on his second shift of the game.
C Valtteri Filppula extended his scoring streak to nine games with an assist on D Victor Hedman’s power play goal at 14:16 of the second period. The scoring streak is the longest current streak in the league and a career high for Filppula, whose previous best was six games set Dec. 26, 2010 to Jan. 4, 2011, while with the Detroit Red Wings.
“I think things are going OK (personally) but I think the team is playing well and when you play well as a team, the individuals look better, too,’’ Filppula said. “And it’s fun right now, I’m happy with the way things are going for the team right now, so that’s the main thing.’’
Recently signed free agent Cody Kunyk arrived in Tampa late Monday after a long trek from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Tampa.
Kunyk, who just completed his senior season at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, left Fairbanks at 5:25 p.m. on Sunday arriving in Seattle at 9:59 p.m. Pacific time, Minneapolis at 5:37 a.m. Central time on Monday and Tampa at 11:15 a.m.
Kunyk did not skate with the team but was in attendance at Monday’s game while undergo physical testing and doing some administrative work.
Lightning prospect G Andrey Vasilevskiy stopped 15 of 17 shots for Salavat on Monday in a 5-2 victory over Barys in the Kontinental Hockey League and 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern semifinals. Game 4 is Tuesday. Barys features three former Tampa Bay players: defensemen Mike Lundin and Kristian Kudroc and forward Brandon Bochenski.
Meanwhile, G Adam Wilcox will lead the University of Minnesota, the No. 1 ranked team in the country, into the opening round of the NCAA tournament on home ice in St. Paul, Minn., against Robert Morris University on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
Nuts and Bolts
C Steven Stamkos appeared in his 400th career game. ... Tampa Bay scratched D Keith Aulie, D Mark Barberio, RW B.J. Crombeen and Kunyk. ... Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson purchase 400 tickets for Monday’s game and donated them to military families in the area.