Andrei Vasilevskiy returns to the net tonight riding a career-best eight-game win streak.
The Lightning (9-2-1) return to a building that has haunted them in recent years – the BB&T Center, where they have lost their past five games. Included was a 5-4 loss to the Panthers (4-5-1) during the second game of the season.
That game delivered a wake-up call, and the Lightning responded by pointing in each of their next nine games until Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the visiting Ducks.
“We’re definitely a more improved team than we were the last time we were here and for that matter, probably the last five times we’ve played these guys,” coach Jon Cooper said. “We opened up with them and were fortunate to get two points out of that game (a 5-3 win). Definitely didn’t deserve points out of the second game. But our team’s come a long way since then. That’s why I’m actually looking forward tonight to see where we stand. These 12 games, I consider Florida one of the top teams we played, so we’ll see where we’re at.”
The Lightning has improved defensively and did a much better job of limiting odd-man rushes and limiting Grade A scoring chances by its opponents since the last time they played in Sunrise.
Mikhail Sergachev deserves to stay, having quickly established himself as one of the team's top-six defensemen.
More and more, it appears Mikhail Sergachev is sticking with the Lightning for good.
And the 19-year-old rookie defenseman got another vote of confidence recently, the team telling him it was okay to look for an apartment in Tampa. Sergachev is moving out of the hotel he's lived in since training camp into a two-bedroom spot downtown.
You wouldn't think the Lightning would tell Sergachev to sign a lease if it had any plans to send him back to his junior team in Windsor in a couple months.
"Obviously I like it, because staying in the hotel for two months is hard," Sergachev said. "When you have your own apartment, it's going to be different for me because I've never lived by myself. I think it's fun." …
Weston Hermann found himself alone on front of the goal, and Steven Stamkos did what he’s been doing lately when he spots a teammate in front of the net: he passed the puck.
And Hermann shot and scored.
“It was unbelievable,” Hermann, 11, said. “It was really fun. Hoping to play with him when I get older. Stamkos, he has a seven-year contract. If he signs another contract I can still play with him.”
Hermann, a self-described “big Lightning fan,” was a guest of the team during Saturday’s morning skate as part of the Lightning’s Hockey Fights Cancer program. He dressed and joined the players, leading the Lightning at center ice during the stretch.
“I was really nervous,” Hermann said. “(Coach Jon Cooper) just told me to go in the circle, lead the stretch. I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ I don’t know what stretches they do.”
The players tapped the ice with their sticks to welcome their new teammate. Hermann, who plays left wing for a youth team in Ellenton, then took turns with Stamkos and Yanni Gourde during two-on-none drills against goalie Peter Budaj. He later worked on his faceoff technique with Brayden Point.
The Anaheim Ducks (4-4-1) make their only trip to Tampa tonight and will be facing a red-hot Lightning team (9-1-1) that enters the game with the most points (19) in the NHL.
“The bottom line is we don’t play them that often but they’ve been a powerhouse Western Conference team for a number of years,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “The thing that’s different with them is we don’t usually see the big, heavy teams a lot and that’s what they are, so it’s definitely a different challenge for us. They’re getting healthier. They’re still missing some really important pieces to their team.”
The banged-up Ducks welcome back D Sami Vatanen, who missed the first nine games of the season after having shoulder surgery.
G Peter Budaj makes his second start of the season tonight. He allowed four goals in an overtime loss at New Jersey on Oct. 17.
Slater Koekkoek is expected to be a healthy scratch tonight for the fourth time in the past five games.
For Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek, his patience continues to be tested.
Koekkoek, 23, the former first-round pick, is expected to be a healthy scratch tonight for the fourth time in the past five games. It's still a bit of a head-scratcher.
With eight defenseman on the roster, someone has to sit. Everyone gets that. And the Lightning is off to its best start in franchise history (8-1-1), so any criticism seems nit-picky. But in the big-picture development for Koekkoek, the kid needs to play, and not once every couple weeks.
The Lightning will go with Andrej Sustr as the seventh defenseman tonight against Detroit. It looks like it's Sustr's turn in the rotation, playing in his third game in the last four after sitting five straight games. With the Lightning's top-six defensemen set, especially with the emergence of rookie Mikhail Sergachev, Sustr and Koekkoek have alternated sitting.
How does coach Jon Cooper decide which one plays? …
Lightning star Nikita Kucherov, shown in Saturday's win against Pittsburgh, scored a goal with four seconds left in Tuesday's win at Carolina to extend his streak of at least one point to 10 games to open Tampa Bay's season.
If there looked to be one small casualty as the Lightning pulled out a win Tuesday night at Carolina, it was that Nikita Kucherov, leading the NHL in scoring, still hadn't scored a point, even after two empty-net goals in the final three minutes, and risked the end of a nine-game streak with at least one point to open the season.
With Carolina's goalie back on the ice in the final minute, Kucherov fed a pass to Steven Stamkos, who curled behind the net and fed a pass to Kucherov, who was waiting in front of the net and scored a goal with four seconds left, his 11th on the season. The streak lives on for another game.
"It was nice obviously, especially when you're winning, and great to get Kuch one at the end there to keep it going," said Stamkos, who had extended his own points streak to 10 games with an earlier assist. "The little things like that, sometimes when you get one late, can give you some confidence heading into the next game. By no means, especially our line, I didn't think we played very well tonight, but we'll look to improve as well the next game." …
Lightning rookie Mikhail Sergachev, shown in preseason, will be staying with Tampa Bay moving forward, coach Jon Cooper said Tuesday.
If there were any remaining doubt, Lightning coach Jon Cooper made it clear Tuesday morning before Tampa Bay's game at Carolina: Rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, making a strong first impression at age 19, is staying with the Lightning moving forward.
"You're looking for 'Has there been improvement? Is he adapting to the game, the speed of the game, the physicality?' He's done all that," Cooper said after the morning skate in Raleigh. "When you watch a player like that continue to improve, especially at a young age, looking at the ceiling he has, which is really high right now, it's pretty hard to make a change. He's had a positive impact on our team. He's a part of a team, and that's how it's going to be moving forward."
The Lightning could have sent Sergachev to the juniors, as playing in his 10th game would trigger the first year of his entry level contract. But his progress and impact -- he was acquired from Montreal this summer in the trade for Jonathan Drouin -- has been clear, especially in the last two games, as he's scored his first three NHL goals. …
Why are Steven Stamkos, pictured, and Nikita Kucherov clicking so well?
In this episode of our Lightning Strikes! podcast, we break down the Lightning's record 7-1-1 start. Why are Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos clicking so well? Why Mikhail Sergachev is likely here for good, not going back to juniors.
On the unsung stars of the hot start, from Brayden Point and Vladislav Namestnikov to Yanni Gourde. Plus Times Lightning beat writer Joe Smith answers your questions. Listen below:
The Lightning and Penguins meet again for the second time in nine days.
The Penguins (5-2-1) have not lost since losing a 5-4 shootout at Amalie Arena.
The Lightning (6-1-1) is playing better defensively, according to coach Jon Cooper, since allowing 43 shots that night.
But, he added, the Penguins three-game winning streak since leaving Tampa is an indication that the defending Stanley Cup champions are playing well, too.
RW Nikita Kucherov participated in the optional morning skate after missing Friday’s practice for body maintenance. D Victor Hedman skated but did so in sweats, which might be an indication he was testing something to see if he can play tonight. C Cedric Paquette, who did not play Thursday at Columbus, did not practice Friday or skate this morning,
When asked if he expects changes tonight to the lineup, Cooper said, “Hard to say. I can say that for sure. Goaltender is the same, after that we’ll have to make game-time decisions, because some guys are nicked up.”
The goaltender, of course, is Andrei Vasilevskiy, who stopped all 43 shots and pitched a shutout Thursday against the Blue Jackets. He leads the NHL in wins with six.
The Lightning return home tonight to face the Penguins for the second time in two weeks.
They last met Oct. 12, and it was an entertaining night at Amalie Arena with nearly 80 shots on goal and end-to-end action that ended in a 5-4 Lightning win.
Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness was asked after Friday’s practice if he expects the pace of play tonight to be not quite as fast.
“I think both sides would, but you have two very highly talented teams, lots of skill, lots of speed. That’s a lot easier said than done,” Bowness said. “Both teams are effective on the rush. Usually when you’re effective on the rush and you go down and create a chance, if you don’t get the retrieval, you’re giving up a chance the other way. That’s how the teams are built. We want to tighten it up a little bit, but you got to let your players go, too, and when that happens, you get a game like that.”
The Lightning (6-1-1) received two goals from Slater Koekkoek, the first two of his career, and one each from Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. It was the first goal of the season for Stamkos.
"I think the one time, obviously it rose awareness for it, but at the same time, we were also able to get something from there, to be put in positions already speaking with the police chief, formulating a plan and having an action plan," Brown said. "That was enough. And who knows if we weren't in that situation, who knows what would have happened? I'm thankful for the organization and the support that they gave me."
Brown stressed that he got a lot of support from the Lightning, from ownership on down to help put him in situations to help. Brooks, known for his many philanthropic efforts in the Tampa Bay community, offered to meet up with Brown, the two talking in his Amalie Arena office last week. …
J.T. Brown plans to do more in the community to create awareness and understanding for key issues of police brutality and racial inequality.
Lightning wing J.T. Brown will no longer be raising his first as a silent protest during the national anthem.
But Brown, 27, one of about 30 black players in the NHL, plans to do more in the community to create awareness and understanding for key issues of police brutality and racial inequality. Brown made the announcement in a lengthy Twitter statement Wednesday afternoon.
"I understand this issue cannot be resolved overnight, nor can i do it alone" Brown said. "I am done raising my fist during the national anthem. I am now using this support, opportunity and platform to call out everyone who agreed or disagreed with me to help by sharing suggestions, continuing respectful conversations and looking for ways that they too can make a difference in the community." …
Nikita Kucherov joined Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux and Keith Tkachuk as the only players in the last 30 years to score a goal in each of his team's first six games.
If anyone knows what it is like to be as hot as Nikita Kucherov is right now, it's Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.
Kucherov, 24, joined Yzerman, Mario Lemieux and Keith Tkachuk as the only players in the last 30 years to score a goal in each of his team's first six games. Kucherov has seven, including two in Monday's 3-2 win over Detroit. Yzerman racked up six in the first six games of the 1988-89 season, when he finished with a career-high 65.
What's that like?
"Honestly, I don't remember much," Yzerman said with a chuckle. "It was a long time ago."
But Yzerman has enjoyed watching Kucherov's record run, which has sparked the Lightning's 5-1 start heading into Tuesday's game in New Jersey.
"He's a really fun, exciting player to watch," Yzerman said. "He's got some special skills. From a team's perspective, he's good in all facets of the game, both ends of the rink. He's equally great as a goal scorer and playmaker. And he's playing hard. He's very motivated, very competitive. He's been a significant factor in every game."
Yzerman isn't surprised, having noticed Kucherov's drive ever since the Russian was selected in the second round of the 2011 NHL Draft. …
Nikita Kucherov is the first player in Lightning history to score a goal in each of the first five games.
The slick, sling-shot type wrist shot Nikita Kucherov used for his first goal Monday night may have stunned many at Little Caesar's Arena.
But Kucherov, 24, has practiced it countless times. There were his 5-to-6 day a week individual workouts this summer at Brandon's Ice Sports Forum, starting in late June. Then the 40-goal scorer, never satisfied, would come home and shoot some more, thanks to the synthetic ice sheet he installed in his two-car garage.
"Just something different," Kucherov said.
It's sparked something special. Kucherov has become one of just four players in the last 30 years to score a goal in each of his first six games. The others include Hall of Famers like Steve Yzerman and Mario Lemieux. Not too shabby.
Kucherov has scored in a variety of ways in his record run, seven goals overall. He's incorporated a lost art — the backhand shot — which the Lightning wing had used for two highlight-reel goals last week.
"Not a lot of guys have the confidence to try it," Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness said. "A lot of guys don't have the skill level. But (Kucherov) does." …
Luke Witkowski (28) played his first 55 NHL games with the Lightning, until signing a two-year $1.5 million deal with Detroit in the summer.
Defenseman Luke Witkowski couldn't help but take a peek at the Lightning's morning skate Monday at the brand-new Little Caesar's Arena.
Witkowski, 27, had been with the Tampa Bay organization since getting drafted in the sixth round in 2008. He played his first 55 NHL games with the Lightning, until signing a two-year $1.5 million deal with Detroit in the summer.
"It's nice to see some of the guys," Witkowski said. "And now play against them."
Witkowski is playing a familiar role, a 6-foot-2 defenseman who also spends time up front at forward, like he did in Tampa Bay. He provides physicality and toughness, something Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill remembered from their days together at Western Michigan.
For Witkowski, who grew up in Holland, Mich, signing with Detroit was the perfect fit.
"It's a lifelong dream," Witkowski said. "But when it actually happens, it's something special."
It's been a big summer for Witkowski, who married long-time girlfriend Erin in early September near Traverse City. "I fished on my wedding day," he said.