Over the past two-plus seasons, Nikita Kucherov has blessed the Tampa Bay Lightning fan base with many, many great moments. When he is on a stretch, he is, in his coach’s words, a “beast”. On Monday night he provided another one of those moments as he streaked through the neutral zone, received a pass from Alex Killorn and roofed a shot over Phillipe Grauber’s shoulder for the game-tying goal.
Here is the highlight:
It is everything that the Lightning want in their offense: fast, decisive and precise. It also shows what happens when the players make the right decisions at key points throughout a play.
When asked to break it down after the game, Anton Stralman referred to it as a “textbook” play. Here it is moment-by-moment with Stralman’s play-by-play.
“We want to play fast, play north and come with speed. Off of a regroup, it was a d-to-d (pass).”
As both teams looked to change lines, Mikhail Sergachev had the puck along the boards. This is decision point number one. First he can rim it around the boards behind the net and hope that Stralman takes the right angle to it and retrieves it first. That decision would be safe, but also give the Capitals fore-checkers a chance to get deeper in the zone and contest the puck.
The second choice is a bit riskier, but moved the puck more quickly. The rookie passed the puck through the middle of the ice to Stralman. If there is any kind of mistake at this point, the Capital’s forward is in a position to pounce on it and turn it into a prime scoring chance. With the way the Lightning have been turning the puck over early in the season, Stralman bobbling the pass was a likely possibility. Fortunately the Swedish defender has his head up and was anticipating the pass. He received it cleanly and was in a position where he could turn and start the next phase of the play.
“Right up to a tip in the middle and Kuch came with a lot of speed.”
Decision point number two. Does Killorn dump it into the offensive zone or does he one-touch it over to Kucherov? Again, dumping the puck in is safe. The Lightning are changing lines and have momentum going into the zone, they should have a chance to gain control of the puck down low.
Killorn decided to follow the breakout script and touch pass it over to Kucherov. This was not as easy as it sounds. First, Alex Killorn had to get the puck cleanly and pass it into a space where Kucherov, just off the bench, could receive it without losing his momentum. If Killorn put it too far ahead of him, Taylor Chorney could step up and end the Russian’s career with a massive hit. If the pass was too far behind him, then Kucherov could lose the speed he built up and would probably end up dumping the puck into the zone. Killorn hit Kucherov in stride to set up the one-on-one battle.
“He’s not one of those players you really dream of facing one-on-one with a lot of speed.”
Chorney played the situation rather well except for one moment. He initially defended Kucherov as if the Russian winger was going to take it wide on his forehand side. That cost him a step once Kucherov pulled it back to his backhand. That half of a second, combined with the Lightning forward’s speed, allowed a slight separation between the two players. Chorney wasn’t in position to physically remove Kucherov in the puck and instead had to try to break up the play with his stick. A move that Kucherov flicked away with his left hand.
It takes pretty good body control to bat away an opponent’s stick, maintain control of the puck one-handed, and then still get enough on it to have a decent shot on net.
“So he did a great job, good finish too.” Stralman undersold the shot just a bit here.
In close, on his his backhand, moving at a high rate of speed with a defender checking him, it was a great finish to roof it over Grauber. The Washington goaltender did help out by not quite getting over to the post quickly enough to close off the short side, but that is a testament to Kucherov’s speed.
Kucherov gave credit to his teammates for setting him up with speed and then acknowledged that he had to make a final decision, “Last game, I kind of passed it out to Stammer, probably should have shot it. This time there was nobody behind me [chuckles adorably]. So I decided to shoot it.”
As ridiculous as it sounds, deciding to shoot the puck is a problem for the Lightning. They have a tendency to get caught in overpassing the puck, even when they’re one-on-one with the goaltender. The more they shoot, the more chaos they can create and the better chance they have of scoring. That means many, many more highlights to break down.