When an article featuring an interview with Nikita Kucherov in Russian came out, it was a bit of a shock. It’s not often that you see a quote from a player and go “Whoa! Did he actually say that?” We are so used to players being cliched and guarded with what they say to the media. But we had that exact reaction to Kucherov’s interview.
I touched some on the report of his comments about who among his teammates he might be talking about. It’s unlikely that it is just one person; when you look at the team, you can see that there were a handful of players that certainly under-performed. There were times when it seemed like Kucherov and Victor Hedman were the entirety of the Lightning offensive production.
This article will be my attempt to dig in to the season from Kucherov’s view point. I'm going to try to see it from where he skates on the ice. To be clear, these are my opinions and best guesses. I have not talked to Kucherov directly. I have not talked to other players or the coaches directly. This is from my own observations, my interpretation of what Kucherov meant, and what I can see from the performances of the whole team.
We’ll go through the season in twenty game increments, which let’s me conveniently divide the season into quarters rather than months. Months would have had uneven numbers of games and this allows us to compare spans of games more evenly. For each segment, I’ll include a table of stats that includes the top five point scorers, top three goal scorers, and top three defensemen scorers, and then a total of every one else.
The First Twenty Games (10/13/16 to 11/21/16)
The beginning of the season really seemed to be going great for Kucherov. Through the first ten games of the season, he only had three goals, but he had an impressive ten assists over that stretch. He had two four point games.
Things switched up for him over the next ten games as he put home six goals and four assists. He missed one game. Overall through the first 20 games of the season, he had nine goals, 14 assists, and 23 points in 19 games played. He led the Lightning’s scoring during the first twenty seasons.
During this part of the season, the scoring was relatively balanced. Kucherov and Steven Stamkos were obviously doing well on a line with Vladislav Namestnikov. But the team also had some good goal scoring from Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn. Valtteri Filppula was having a good enough start to the year. Victor Hedman was where one would expect him to be. Anton Stralman lagged a little behind with some injury issues but was otherwise fine. The rest of the blue line didn’t offer up much help on offense.
The Lightning were 12-7-1 at this point of the season and sitting second in the Atlantic Division. This was just about right where they were expected to be. The 17th game of the segment saw Stamkos leave the game early with a knee injury and we wouldn’t see him in a game again for the rest of the season. The Lightning finished the segment with a 4-1-0 run over the last five games including winning the game Stamkos was injured in.
Best Winning Streak: 4
Worst Losing Streak: 3
Best Points Streak: 4
Most Goals Scored in a Game: 7
Most Goals Allowed in a Game: 6
Shut Outs For: 2
Shut Outs Against: 1
The Second Twenty Games (11/23/16 to 1/5/17)
The second twenty games really saw the impact of Stamkos being out of the line up. Kucherov also dealt with some injuries, as did a number of other Lightning players. Palat missed time. Point was injured towards the end of the segment. The lines were being juggled seemingly every game due to the injuries. The Lightning would use 28 different players during this segment.
Hedman really ratcheted up his play during this segment going over a point per game. Drouin also picked up his game, scoring more goals and points. Boyle saw success playing on a line with Filppula and Drouin during this segment, and he saw time on the power play. Killorn just missed being listed individually on the list with five goals, but his hot start cooled off and he only had five assists.
By this point in the season, the Lightning had fallen to 19-17-4. Their record put them fifth in the division, two points out of third place and three points behind the second wild card.
Best Winning Streak: 2
Worst Losing Streak: 4
Best Points Streak: 3
Most Goals Scored in a Game: 6
Most Goals Allowed in a Game: 6 (twice)
Shut Outs For: 0
Shut Outs Against: 2
The Third Twenty Games (1/7/17 to 2/23/17)
This is where things really went into a nose dive. Kucherov struggled to score as much as he had earlier in the season. The goals were still coming, but the assists had dropped off. This kind of sounds like that time where he was talking about being frustrated by making passes to players and them not being ready for a pass to make a play on it. During this time, the Lightning plummeted down the standings and at one point were last in the Atlantic Conference and the third worst team in the NHL.
As you can see from the stats, the "Everyone Else" column picked up a little bit, but it wasn’t enough to offset the problem of the top end of the line up not scoring as much. Nesterov also makes an appearance here as he went on a hot streak before being traded to the Montreal Canadiens. Only one of his six points came on the power play.
Also of note during this segment was the power play. In the first 40 games, the Lightning scored 35 power play goals, or 0.875 per game. During this segment, they only scored ten power play goals, or 0.5 per game.
By the end of this segment, the Lightning had rebounded somewhat in the standings ending with a 27-25-8 record. That put them sixth in the Atlantic division, six points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for third in the division and also six points back of the second wild card.
Best Winning Streak: 2 (twice)
Worst Losing Streak: 3 (twice)
Best Points Streak: 7
Most Goals Scored in a Game: 5 (twice)
Most Goals Allowed in a Game: 6
Shut Outs For: 1
Shut Outs Against: 0
The Last Twenty-Two Games (2/27/17 to 4/9/17)
After the trade deadline, Kucherov absolutely exploded. He picked the team up and carried them on his back with 17 goals and 31 points. 17 of his points came at even strength as he played on a line with Palat and Point to finish out the season.
Yanni Gourde came up with a couple of big goals including a short handed goal to tie a game and an overtime winner. Most of Drouin’s production came on the power play. But the big story was that Palat-Point-Kucherov line that carried the bulk of the offense for the Lightning. That line produced 31 of the Lightning’s 67 goals over the final 22 games. The "Everyone Else" total really dropped off in the assists and total points department for this last segment.
From the trade deadline on, with Filppula and Boyle gone and with Johnson and Namestnikov suffering injuries that limited their playing time down the stretch, the Lightning became a very top-heavy team. Their production came mostly from one line, one defenseman, and the power play. Even on the power play, it was just the Kucherov-Drouin-Palat-Point-Hedman unit that was doing damage. Johnson and Killorn were the only other players outside of those five with a power play point with one each.
Best Winning Streak: 4 (twice)
Worst Losing Streak: 3
Best Points Streak: 6 (twice)
Most Goals Scored in a Game: 6 (twice)
Most Goals Allowed in a Game: 5 (four times)
Shut Outs For: 0
Shut Outs Against: 3
One big thing that jumps out to me is the blue line. Hedman obviously had a Norris caliber year, but there wasn’t much else coming from the defense. Stralman was consistently in the top three for defensemen scoring for each segment, but his numbers were a letdown from the past two seasons and he was never in the top 5 overall scorers in a segment. He also dealt with injuries off and on through the season. One has to wonder how they impacted his play.
The combination of Nesterov and Dotchin would have equaled a pretty good year from a third pair defenseman (75 games, three goals, 20 assists, 23 points). Sustr’s offense was about where it was expected to be, but he was a defensive liability for much of the season.
Braydon Coburn has never been a big offensive threat, so I’m not too concerned about his point production. His value to the team is in being a steady presence on the back end. From a defensive perspective, he was the Lightning’s 2nd or 3rd best defender on the blue line.
I'd really like to ask what happened to Garrison, though. When he was acquired, he was a two-time 30-point scorer in the NHL. He was a guy that had scored at a pace of 0.34 points per game. He continued that in his first year in Tampa with 30 points in 70 games. But the past two years? Just 20 points in 142 games; 0.14 points per game. His defensive game has also not been top notch. He doesn’t seem to have the offense in his game any more to make up for his shortcomings.
I’ve never played professional sports. I don’t know what it’s like to be in Kucherov’s skates. I don’t know what it’s like to be in a locker room full of professional athletes day after day for six months.
But, much like any other work place, you’re not guaranteed to be friends with every player that walks into the room. You’re not guaranteed to get along with everyone. If you feel someone isn’t pulling their weight and you’re having to pick up the slack for them, you’re going to get frustrated.
That seems to be what happened with Kucherov, especially over the final 42 games of the season. We know he is an elite possession driver. Palat is more than capable of participating on a line with Kucherov. Point showed that he has the ability to keep up as well. But neither of them are up to the level of Kucherov. He was the straw that stirred the Lightning’s drink for the last part of the season.
The comments from Andrei Vasilevskiy the other day also pointed to the fact that Kucherov wasn’t the only player in the room to notice what was going on. With all of that effort put in without making the playoffs, it has to be frustrating. Hopefully the other guys in the room listened and took notice and will work harder this offseason. They all need to come back next fall and perform to the level this team is capable of.