The Tampa Bay Lightning had a decidedly down year in 2016-17 after three straight years in the playoffs that included a Stanley Cup Final appearance and another season in the Eastern Conference Final.
Steven Stamkos went down with a torn meniscus just 17 games into the season. Ben Bishop missed 10 games with an injury. Tyler Johnson missed 16 games. Rookie sensation Brayden Point missed 14 games. Various other members of the Lightning missed time with injury as well with no one playing in all 82 games. Alex Killorn came the closest with 81, followed by Andrej Sustr and Braydon Coburn with 80 games, and Victor Hedman with 79 games.
The team went into a major slump in January, at least in part due to Brayden Point’s injury that kept him out for all but one game in January. Veterans Ben Bishop, Valtteri Filppula, and Brian Boyle were traded at the deadline. Even with all of that, the Lightning still managed to just barely miss the playoffs as they stormed back late in the season. A big reason for their resurgence was Andrei Vasilevskiy settling in to the starter’s role and Nikita Kucherov putting the team on his back with an assist from Hedman, Jonathan Drouin, and Point down the stretch.
One of the big bright spots of the season was Kucherov’s dominance. He posted his first 40 goal season, which was also the Lightning’s first such season since Stamkos scored 42 in 2014-15 and the ninth time overall in franchise history. He also put up 85 points, the first Bolt to hit that plateau since Stamkos in 2011-12.
One game in particular sticks out to me from that season that also showed a lot of the growth that Kucherov had going into the season. He had been a threat to score on the power play previously, with nine power play goals and 16 power play assists in 2015-16. But in 2016-17, the flood gates opened with Stamkos no longer being the primary shooting option on the power play. Kucherov stepped up with 17 goals to go with 15 assists. A lot of his success came down to his more frequent use of the one-timer. As Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin have shown, it is an extremely potent weapon on the power play when a player can release it with power and accuracy.
Kucherov took over that role and started to let the puck fly from the right wing circle. This particular hat trick demonstrates that very well from the 2016-17 season. Kucherov in fact scored all three of his goals from the same spot in almost exactly the same fashion in the second period of the February 27th, 2017 game at home against the Ottawa Senators. All three goals were scored on one-timers from the right wing circle with the third goal being a nearly exact copy and paste of the first goal. Check out the YouTube highlights as well as the side-by-side comparison of all three shots at the bottom to see for yourself.
On the first goal, on the power play, Drouin pushed the puck up to Hedman from the left wing circle. Hedman makes a quick pass over to Kucherov for the one-timer that he slammed home from the right wing circle. The goal was assisted by Hedman and Drouin.
One the second goal, again on the power play, Drouin had the puck and was backing towards the left point. He passed the puck past his defender to Kucherov. The puck was in a perfect spot and Kucherov loaded up to one-time the puck home for his second goal. The goal was assisted by Drouin and Johnson.
On the third goal, once again on the power play, Drouin pushed the puck up to Hedman from the left wing circle. Hedman makes a quick pass over to Kucherov for the one-timer that he slammed home from the right wing circle. The goal was assisted by Hedman and Drouin.
[Why yes, I did just copy and paste the first goal here and just change a couple words.]
For Kucherov, this was his second career hat trick and his first since 10/28/2014 against the Arizona Coyotes. It also was the 52nd hat trick in Lightning franchise history including the post season.