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Nikita Kucherov obviously named NHL’s first star for December

Big Kuch Energy.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In the month of December, what did Nikita Kucherov not do for the Tampa Bay Lightning? In 40 games played so far this season, he’s managed to go from a slow start to the hottest scorer in the league, outpacing Mikko Rantanen for 65 points (19 goals, 46 assists). For the 14 games in the month of December alone, Kucherov netted 9G/21A for 30 points, setting the franchise record for assists and points in a single month.

But instead of singing his praises, let’s look at some of his work.

December 1, Lightning vs. Panthers: 1G, 2A

From the recap:

It seems unlikely they can keep winning this way but they’ve done it twice in a row now. And tonight, much of the credit should go to Nikita Kucherov. He showed again why he’s a special player. He created the second and fifth goals single-handedly and scored the third on a rocket of a shot. Star players step up in the clutch and propel their teams to victory. Kuch did just that tonight.

December 3, Lightning at Devils: 1G, 3A

From the recap:

The Tampa Bay Lightning walked into New Jersey on Monday night and did what they normally do: win. Nikita Kucherov led the way with a goal and three assists in the 5-1 win that only really took 30ish minutes before it was in the bag.

Kucherov now has 42 points on the season, which is only three back of league leader Mikko Rantanen. Rantanen’s Colorado Avalanche will be in Tampa Bay on Saturday night for what could be an amazing night of hockey.

December 4, Lightning at Red Wings: this is his one game without a point.

Boo.

December 6, Lightning vs. Bruins: 1A

From the recap:

Simply put, Tampa Bay out-battled Boston here. Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson win the puck battle against Charlie McAvoy and Brad Marchand. This causes the puck to bounce towards Tuukka Rask and roll near the left (his right) post. Johnson takes a few whacks at the puck and eventually forces the puck across the crease where Nikita Kucherov recovers it.

Notice how Kucherov looks to see where Point is going before he touches the puck. That’s what enables him to make the deft backhanded pass that catches the Bruins off guard. The only Bruins player to pay attention to Point is Marchand, but Marchand whiffs on the stick lift that would’ve stopped this goal. This was Point’s 21st goal on the season, Kucherov’s 31st assist, and Johnson’s ninth assist. This line has been dominant ever since they were put together.

December 8, Lightning vs. Colorado: 1A

From the recap:

They didn’t waste any time grabbing an early lead. The Avs appeared to have control of the puck and looked like they would clear it but pressure from Yanni Gourde forced a poor clearing attempt that Victor Hedman was able to corral at the blue line. The scramble left the Avs out of structure and the Lightning went to their bread and butter. Hedman passed the puck to Kucherov who fed it across the ice to Stamkos and the captain buried it from his office.

December 10, Lightning vs. Rangers: 1A

From the recap:

After New York’s aforementioned surge at the midway point of the period, Tampa Bay came right back at them with a physical shift from the fourth line. Shortly after, Tampa Bay scored through transition to take their first lead of the game.

Two things; Kucherov makes this goal happen with his nifty pass to Point, and Henrik Lundqvist whiffs on this one. Lundqvist doesn’t whiff on these often, so, you take them when they happen but there was nothing dangerous about McDonagh’s shot here.

December 13, Lightning vs. Leafs: 1G, 1A

From the recap:

Kucherov’s goal happened early in the period, before Tampa Bay’s penalty troubles allowed a barrage of shots and pressure to fall on Vasilevskiy (and provide us with those fantastic GIFs above). Full stop, Vasilevskiy was the single biggest reason Toronto did not score on their power-plays in the second, and in the entire game. Tampa Bay’s coverage wasn’t perfect all the time, but there were moments when they had the Leafs chasing them while shorthanded.

December 16, Lightning at Jets: 1G

From the recap:

The Lightning got their second power play of the game around the fourteen minute mark and quickly took advantage. This time, Kucherov beat Hellebuyck with a shot from low in the right faceoff circle off a pass from Stamkos. In a game that featured nine goals, this was the only one that could be labeled soft. Hellebuyck failed to seal off the near side post and let the puck squeak through to give the Lightning the lead 4-3.

December 18, Lightning at Canucks: 1G, 1A

From the recap:

Thanks to an exploding stick on a Boeser slapshot, a couple of errant passes, and good goaltending by Andrei Vasilevskiy the Lightning survived. Vancouver racked up the shots but failed to put one past him.

A few minutes later, Kucherov did a good thing. With a face-off in the offensive zone to Nilsson’s left, Brayden Point cleanly won the draw from Jay Beagle. Kucherov, anticipating the win, crept behind Point and the puck went right to his stick. It didn’t stay their long as Kucherov snapped a quick wrister past Nilsson for his 15th goal of the season.

December 20, Lightning at Flames: 2A

From the recap:

Point and Kucherov can play with anyone, but Palat might be the perfect linemate for them. He’s a tenacious forechecker and defensively-sound player who creates chaos in front of the net. On the first goal of the game, Palat took Calgary’s best defender Mark Giordano out of the play, leaving Kucherov and Point to roam wherever they wanted. Kucherov got himself a great chance from the slot that got past David Rittich, but it required Palat — who was causing chaos in front of the net — to fully get it across the line.

Erne burst through the neutral zone, grabbed the puck from Kucherov, and set up Stamkos for a wide open slapshot. Erne has been incredibly quick in his short stint since Joseph left the lineup. He works really hard, and it pays off well. I wonder if he’s not the one to leave the lineup when the french rookie returns.

December 22, Lightning at Oilers: 1G, 4A -- holy guacamole

Just go re-read the whole recap, seriously.

December 27, Lightning vs. Flyers: 1G, 3A

From the recap:

The biggest thing everyone should take note of is how the Flyers defended against this. Watch Claude Giroux motion toward a Lightning player (Kucherov) as he aims to cover behind Point. The issue the teammate he is trying to talk to, Dale Weise, is not paying attention to him. Giroux went ahead and did what he planned to do instead of accounting for Weise just not paying attention. That was why Kucherov was that wide open to bury the one-timer.

December 29, Lightning vs. Canadiens: 1G, 1A

From the recap:

Tic-tac-goal. Brayden Point recovers the loose puck after Steven Stamkos wins the faceoff and passes it to Hedman. Hedman feeds it to Kucherov who fires a one-timer home. Just like they drew it up in practice.

December 31, Lightning at Ducks: 1G, 1A

From the recap:

The Lightning got on the board first taking the lead against the run of play. Point did most of the work carrying the puck through the neutral zone and entering the offensive zone with speed. He dished the puck the Erik Cernak in the slot who slid it across to Kucherov on the right. Kuch buried it to increase his lead in the NHL scoring race.

And that is how you get to 30 points.

Fun Trivia from GeoFitz:

  • 21 of 30 of Kucherov’s points were primary points (either goals or primary assists).
  • 19 of 30 points were at even strength with 11 on the power play.
  • Kucherov assisted on goals by six different players.
  • Kucherov’s goals were assisted by seven different players.
  • One Kucherov goal was unassisted
  • Point had the most assists credited on a Kucherov goal assisting on six out of eight of his goals.
  • Point was the most common player that also scored a point with Kucherov with 15.
  • Hedman was the most common defenseman that also scored a point with Kucherov with eight. Cernak (1), Girardi (2), Sergachev (1), and McDonagh (3) also recorded points with Kucherov.
  • Of Stamkos’ seven goals that Kucherov assisted on, four were on the power play and three were at even strength.
  • Johnson scored six even strength goals assisted by Kucherov with three being primary assists by Kucherov.
  • Kucherov matched his career high in assists (3) and points (4) on 12/3 against the New Jersey Devils. He broke those highs on 12/22 with four assists and five points.
  • In December, Kucherov had 9 multi-point games out of 14 and 3+ points in four games.