Quick Strikes: So much love for Nikita Kucherov! He’s good. Who knew?

Also: The Crunch juggle line up changes.

-We here in Tampa Bay Lightning Land just can’t get enough of Nikita Kucherov, and it seems like many others can’t, either. Joe Smith wrote up a (pay walled) piece about a more mature Kuch and how he’s changed over the seasons.

In previous years, if you ran into Nikita Kucherov during a scoring slump, you’d find a real grump.

That might be putting it mildly — the ultra-competitive All-Star couldn’t hide his torment over his on-ice struggles. You could see the sulk in his body language on the ice. The way he’d slam his stick into the boards. Or how he’d pore over his shifts on video after the game. He’d bring it home with him at night.

“It used to be, if I wasn’t scoring, I would always get down on myself so hard,” Kucherov said.

But this season, teammates and coaches have sensed a change. A more “relaxed” Russian.

View this post on Instagram

#NikitaKucherov continues to shine in the NHL 🌩 🌩

A post shared by TSN (@tsn_official) on

-Sure, we love us some Kucherov, but we’re also charter members of the Brayden Point fan club!

-Tyler Johnson and Braydon Coburn had some fun yesterday.

-The trade dreadline is looming. Should the Lightning stay put or go all in? Alan considered this question yesterday.

But just because the Lightning shouldn’t spend on depth doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be in the market at the deadline. They absolutely should. But instead of thinking small, the front office should be thinking big. Think Mark Stone. Think Matt Duchene. Think Artemi Panarin.

-Does the Lightning have a Death Star-like weakness? THN apparently thinks so.

It’s defensively, however, that Tampa Bay needs some fine tuning. And while some will point to the exceptional penalty kill and the league’s fifth-lowest goals against total as the counterpoint any suggestion that’s the case, the reality is that any defensive deficiencies shown throughout the season have been largely masked, particularly of late, by the play of Andrei Vasilevskiy.

-Yesterday, the Syracuse Crunch juggled roster issues while the Lightning looked to be getting a few guys back healthy again.

Justin discussed what all this meant for Syracuse in his game preview:

The Crunch might also be without their newest defender, Jan Rutta. The big defenseman was recalled to Tampa on Tuesday to provide some depth due to Erik Cernak’s injury. In order for there to be room on the Lightning roster for Rutta, Mathieu Joseph was loaned to Syracuse from Tampa Bay. This was purely a paper transaction, however, as the rookie forward physically stayed with the NHL club and never left Tampa. It was confirmed earlier this afternoon that Joseph is still with the Lightning and practiced with them today.

With Cernak and Joseph practicing today, it is assumed that Rutta will be returned to Syracuse. He was apparently not at the Lightning’s practice this afternoon, although it is not yet known whether he will make it up to Belleville in time to play tonight. In 7 games with the Crunch so far, Rutta has provided 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists). If he isn’t back in time for the game (he wasn’t), the Crunch will be left with six active players on defense.

-Rutta and Joseph did, indeed, switch places yesterday (well, figuratively speaking, anyway, considering half of this was only on paper).

-Disappointingly, Syracuse lost their game last night 3-0. However, as Justin points out, all is certainly not lost.

When the Crunch’s offense is clicking, they move the puck quickly and decisively, forcing their opponents to overcommit and opening up shooting lanes. When the Syracuse offense struggles, the phrase “errant pass” is uttered way too often by broadcaster Lukas Favale. That was the case against the Senators. Too many passes were thrown into areas where there were no players or put in places that were just a few inches out of reach or into a teammate’s skates.

When a team is shut out in back-to-back games it’s easy to say they need to shoot the puck more, and that they need to be passing the puck less. The thing is, no one ever says that about the same team when they put six goals on the board playing the same way. The Crunch, much like the Lightning, are always going to be a team that passes the puck a lot. On good nights those passes connect and lead to goals. On bad nights they don’t.

-Recent struggles for “good nights” aside, Syracuse is looking good. Really good. So good, in fact, that Patrick Williams ranked them as second this week in his Power Rankings, the highest point so far for the Crunch this season.

They are fourth on the power play, and fifth on the penalty kill, and that can get them through difficult periods in a league like the AHL in which the games pile up in short order

-Syracuse had a unique guest during the intermissions of their game last night: equipment manager Colten Wilson.

-The Crunch is looking forward to hosting their You Can Play Night Saturday.

-Syracuse will also be putting the spotlight on some local businesses in the health and wellness sector next Friday.

-The cheesy Valentine’s parade continues!

-Lightning prospect Alexey Lipanov was one of Tuesday’s OHL 3 Stars of the Night.

-The Orlando Solar Bears have signed rookie forward David Mazurek.

-Ben Bishop is back in town and it just hurts so much I can’t.

-Roberto Luongo has truly loved his time with the Florida Panthers. Ryan Dixon takes a look at the goalie’s career with that team in this sweet piece from SportsNet.

But five years ago, at the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline, the goaltender returned to the welcome familiarity of his South Florida hockey home. While good health has proven elusive and expectations of his potential-packed team have gone mostly unmet, Luongo — who starred for Canada 20 years ago at the World Junior Championship, won two Olympic golds as a grownup and has seen it all in an expansive career — could not be stopping pucks in a place that means more to him.

-On a much more somber (but still connected) note, today is the anniversary of the shooting in Parkland, Florida. If you missed TSN’s original about the school’s hockey team who won the state championship in honor of the victims that died in the shooting at the school, then here’s a chance to see it again.

- Steph Driver answers the hard questions with a succinct, to-the-point style that is so rarely seen these days. This time, she attacked the Shayne Gostisbehere question.

-Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin is having a season that’s apparently a bit of a head-scratcher.

The popular consensus with Malkin right now seems to be that he cares too much, and that he is trying too hard to make an impact. There’s probably a lot of truth to that because Malkin has always been a fierce competitor that knows he can take a game over on any given night. This is also a team that has struggled in the depth department this season and there’s probably even more pressure for him to feel that he has to take on more responsibility and do more. We also know that when that fierce competitor side of him and the “I am going to do this all myself” mindset collide it can lead to the opposite result of what anyone wants.

-Vancouver prospect Michael DiPietro had a debut that will go down in Canuks history for all the wrong reasons. Katie Strang contributed an article for The Athletic (pay walled) where she talked about the netminder’s situation with other goalies.

-Can someone check on the Anaheim Ducks?

-Matt Dumba of the Minnisota Wild has a little billet sister named Lily. She is raising money for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and Dumba went to bat for her.

-I don’t know what’s going on here, but the St. Louis Blues seem to, so...I’ll just leave this here.

-Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington hasn’t gotten much press, but he’s deserved it, writes Jared Clinton.

Fresh off of NHL first star of the week honors, Binnington has quickly become one of the stories of the season — and not just for the Blues. The 25-year-old, who hadn’t seen NHL action since a one-off appearance back in 2015-16, has ripped the reins in the St. Louis crease out of Allen’s admittedly loose grasp and run with his opportunity as the No. 1 netminder.

-The New Jersey Devils and Metropolitan Riveters of the NWHL are teaming up to establish a Learn to Play program exclusively for girls.

-Broadcaster Erica Ayala was part of a three-woman broadcast team for the 2019 NWHL All-Star Game in Nashville is this past weekend. She discussed the experience in an article she penned for ESPN.

I remember the day I saw my first black hockey player. On Oct. 18, 2015, I took my younger sister, Jessica, to the Aviator Sports and Events Center in Brooklyn, New York, to watch an NWHL game between the New York Riveters and Boston Pride. That was the first home game of the now Metropolitan Riveters.

As the teams took to the ice for warm-ups, I was impressed by the Pride player wearing No. 10. Her shot was so powerful that I expressed a genuine concern for the Riveters players. When I realized the shot belonged to a black player, I looked down at the team rosters to learn her name. It was Blake Bolden.

-Yesterday was the 39th anniversary of the Opening Ceremonies of the XIII Winter Games. Yes, THAT winter games.

-Red Bull invited a bunch of random hockey players to try the Crashed Ice Track. They fell down. A lot. Warning for some mild language.