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LIghtning Round: Nikita Kucherov is reportedly on schedule to return by the Stanley Cup Playoffs

And other details from Julien BriseBois’s annual midseason address.

2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Yesterday Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois gave his annual state of the Lightning during his mid-season media availability, which became a tradition since BriseBois replaced Steve Yzerman as the team’s general manager. BriseBois analyzed the current season for the defending Stanley Cup champions, threw light on his plans for the upcoming trade deadline, and discussed many other details.

Julien BriseBois also disclosed details about Nikita Kucherov’s current condition. The Russian forward has been recovering after undergoing a surgery on his right hip at the end of the last year. Initially the Lightning expected that this surgery would sideline Kucherov for the whole 2020-21 regular season and he would be ready by the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs. According to BriseBois, Kucherov is still on schedule to the return once the playoffs start. Also per the Lightning general manager Kucherov started skating this week, another good sign that he is “exactly on track“. []

“He’s following the schedule very methodically and following the protocol and working hard with our therapist to get his range of motion back and his strength back,” BriseBois said. “Now he’s skating, so it’s getting those muscles to start firing up again, and it is a process. It’s a long rehab. … As of now, everything indicates that he is right on track and he will make a full recovery, and when I see him every now and then his spirits are high and he’s itching to get back playing again and ramping up what he’s allowed to do.”

Speaking of the trade deadline, Julien BriseBois admitted that due to the current cap situation, the Lightning likely won’t be able to bring another player by April 12, which is a scheduled date for the trade deadline. Nikita Kucherov is expected to be the most significant addition to the Lightning group for the playoffs []

“We are doing our due diligence trying to find opportunities to improve our team, whether that’s at forward, at D,” BriseBois said. “If there is an opportunity for us to add a player that will make our team better and we can find a way to make it work cap-wise, we’re going to do it. But at the same time, I do want to manage expectations because we literally have zero dollars of cap space and that’s going to be the biggest challenge to us doing anything trade-wise between now and the deadline.

With that being said, BriseBois also added that he’s pleased with the way team played in the first half of this season and expressed his confidence in this group. The Lightning remains second in the Central Division, but is leading the division and the whole league in point percentage, which could be a more significant number this season, when a lot of games being suspended and postponed. The Lightning are also one of the top teams in many major statistical categories in the NHL. The Lightning are first in goals scored per game (3.64) and third in goals agains per game (2.24). Both of their special team units are also near the top in the league: the penalty kill is the second with 87.5%, while their power play is the fourth-best with 28.1% []

“If you look at the standings this morning, you look at wins and losses, goals for, goals against, our special teams, the only conclusion you can draw is that we’ve had a really good first half of the season,” BriseBois said in his opening remarks before taking questions from reporters. “When I look at the points of emphasis that we believe help us be successful, areas where we need to excel at, i.e., limiting the number of quality scoring chances against, battling hard physically, managing the game, when I look at the numbers for our players this year versus last year, I see a lot of consistency. I see numbers that are very similar.”

BriseBois however criticized some aspects of the Lightning’s play with one of them being giving up a lot of odd-man rushes []

“The one area where I think our play has slipped is we’re giving up more odd-man rushes and we’re giving up more quality chances off of odd-man rushes,” BriseBois continued. So that’s one area where I’d like us to tighten up in the second half of the season.

We are providing the other team with too many power-play opportunities,” BriseBois said. “Hopefully, that’s something we can rein in the second half of the season and make life a little easier on ourselves. The flip side of that is there’s one area where we significantly improved and it goes to us battling physically harder and that’s in the trenches in front of both nets. In the defensive zone, we’re doing a much better job boxing out and in the offensive zone, we’re doing a much better job getting to the front of the net, screening shots, tipping pucks, so that’s a positive trend for our group”

BriseBois also praised Cal Foote’s performance, noting his puck-moving skills and physicality. He compared his development with Mikhail Sergachev, mentioning that both are obviously different but very good players. Having a young and promising right-shot defenseman is also very good sign for the team, given that the right side of the Lightning’s defense sags a little bit compared to the left. []

“Cal has really come along. I’ve been impressed with his progression. He’s more and more assertive in his play with the puck and his physical play when he’s defending. And that’s really key for him. He put a lot of time during the pause in getting stronger and working on his foot speed. The foot speed’s coming along. The strength is coming along. There’s still untapped potential on both fronts for him. He’s still a very young player still developing. But I like how I can see his confidence grow from game to game, and he just needs to keep doing that. He’s obviously a completely different player than Mikhail Sergachev, but they’re both good young players who I see playing for us for many years to come, so that’s exciting. Especially him being a right-shot D. We already have the murderer’s row on the left side with Hedman, McDonagh and Sergachev, so it’s nice to know that we have someone who’s going to be eating minutes for us on the right side”

Lightning Links

The Syracuse Crunch yesterday’s game against the Utica Comets was postponed due to an abundance of caution for COVID protocols.

Hardev wrote about this more detailed in his Syracuse Crunch piece, which also includes preview for other games and news related to the team [Raw Charge]

After a week-long losing streak, augmented by injuries and call-ups, the Syracuse Crunch seem to be coming out of their nadir with some confidence, returning personnel, and wins. Winners of two of their last three, the Crunch have had the better part of a week off before heading to Utica for a day trip to play the Comets, they’ll then come home to play the WBS Penguins on Saturday.

Mikhail Shalagin scored his third goal of the VHL playoffs. He also added an assist later in the game, helping his team to take 2-0 lead in the series.

Nick Perbix scored his first goal in the NCHC playoffs.

Hockey News

The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired defenceman Mikko Lehtonen from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for goaltender Veini Vehvilainen.

NHL teams started to expand their indoor capacity of fans.

Meanwhile the Vegas Golden Knights announced that the team received a false positive COVID test in St. Louis and Marc-Andre Fleury has been removed from the NHL’s COVID Protocol list

Rookie Kirill Kaprizov recorded his first career hat-trick in the NHL.