Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kucherov, the defending league MVP, was back on the first line during morning skate on Thursday, in preparation for the Lightning’s home game vs. the Dallas Stars.
After a costly turnover, Kucherov spent most of the third period and then overtime on the bench of the Lightning’s 4-3 win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday. It was a particularly surprising move, given Kucherov had scored earlier in the game.
But Thursday morning, last year’s Hart Trophy winner was back on the Lightning’s top line, with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat.
“Kuch is going to be fine. He’s a very prideful player,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “He’s going to come out and be great and hopefully we’ll never have to talk about it again.”
On Saturday, in a 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals, Kucherov left midway through the second period after taking John Carlson‘s shot off the right foot-shin area. He did not return. But he started vs. the Senators, and remained in his normal slot until the third.
“It was just our decision. It could have been anybody,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Tuesday night. “As a group, we put ourselves in a position that we wanted to win this game, and this is what we were going with tonight.”
Like the Lightning, Kucherov is battling to regain last season’s form. Leading Tampa Bay to the Presidents’ Trophy for the best regular-season point total (128), Kucherov had 41 goals and 128 points. This season, he has 11 and 35.
The Lightning have won three of the last four games, though they are still out of playoff position in the Eastern Conference, entering Thursday.
“It’s just an ongoing process,” Stamkos said. “We are improving in the right direction with puck possession and shot attempts. It’s trending the right way. We’ll keep trying to improve.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.