Photo Breakdown: Defense Beware

A determined Steven Stamkos and an in-his-prime NIkita Kucherov together could spell doom for Lightning opponents

On November 1st, 2016 the Tampa Bay Lightning stomped to a 6-1 victory over the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.  The win moved them to 7-4 on the season and things were looking pretty good for a team that many had picked to return to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Leading the charge were Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.  Kucherov, broke out of a bit of a goal-scoring rut as he picked up his second and third goals of the season in the first period.  Stamkos added his seventh goal of the season later in the same period.

Following Kucherov’s first goal, a 5-3 power play goal,  Getty’s Bruce Bennett snapped this photo of a supremely confident pair of scorers.

Watch the goal (starts at 15 seconds)

The Lightning are on a 5-on-3 power play so there is plenty of open ice.  The Islander defenders are rightfully concerned with Stamkos having the puck in a dangerous position, yet they aren’t that out of position.

Stamkos fires a pass that has a chance to be deflected by all three New York players’ sticks. Travis Harmonic (#3) isn’t looking in the right direction, but his stick is still in the passing lane. Brock Nelson (#29) just misses the puck and Stamkos’ stick. Dennis Seidenberg (#4) reads the play but just can’t get to the puck in time.

Seidenberg probably would have been better off just letting the pass go and focusing on Kucherov, because once he reaches for the pass, there is no way for him to recover in time to prevent the shot into the open net. A net left open because Jaroslav Halak was completely sold on Stamkos shooting the puck.

Kucherov does a great job of controlling the pass and flinging it into the net, but the pass was the sign of a confident player.  In all honestly, that pass probably shouldn’t have been made.  With the Islanders collapsing on defense, the one area of the ice that they should be able to guard was the front of the net - right where Stamkos passed it.

If the Lightning are struggling, he probably doesn’t make that pass. The thought of it getting knocked away is most likely in the back of his head and he either takes a shot or dumps it up to Victor Hedman at the point (neither one bad options). Yet, a player on a scoring roll takes those chances and sometimes they pay off.

That’s the threat that a healthy Stamkos and a fully-engaged Kucherov bring to the ice. If they’re on the ice at the same time, especially on the power play, defenses have to be prepared for one-timers from either end of the ice. Teams can no longer flood Stamkos’ side of the ice to cut off his shot. If they leave Kucherov open, he’ll burn them with a one-timer as seen in the goal above.  Spreading out the defense usually leads to better chances.

The Lightning potentially have two 40-goal scorers for the upcoming season. That has never happened in franchise history. In fact, no team in the league has sported two 40-goal scorers since the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin scored 50 and James Neal had 40 in 2011-12.

For that to happen Kucherov does need to overcome his tendency to defer to other players on the ice.  Whether it’s just his nature or a product of growing up in a Russian system that values teamwork and puck possession, he does need to be a tad more selfish when it comes to taking shots.

Coach Cooper loves mixing and matching his lines at seemingly random, but if he can resist the urge to break up the Stamkos and Kucherov chemistry Lightning fans should be prepared to see many, many more celebration photos.