Transcript: Cooper praises Kucherov and explains why Budaj will be in net against the Rangers

Transcribed for accessibility. Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper talks injury updates, the stellar play of Nikita Kucherov, and the decision to rest starting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.


Quick Note: For the sake of clarity and fluency, I have omitted extraneous uses of the phrases, “and,” “but,” “so,” “you know,” and “I mean.”

Question: It felt lucky. Could have been a lot worse - the injury the other night. He [Vladislav Namestnikov] was skating today. How encouraging - could he play in the next couple of days?

Cooper: Vladdy’s a possibility tonight. Johnny [Tyler Johnson] and [Cedric] Paquette, no.

Question: Are they on the [road] trip? Are they going to play at all?

Cooper: Paquette’s not on the trip. Johnny is. Were you on the plane?

Question: Yeah

Cooper: [smiles] Yeah, but I know. That’s good, like at least you’re asking the question. You weren’t assuming things.

Question: [Byron] Froese - a guy you got in the trade [of Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs]. I know you saw him only for the morning skate today, but what...

Cooper: Actually, no. I remember him. He’s been - he’s played a few games with the Leafs. I remember I’ve watched him in the minors, play. I thought we were really fortunate to get him as part of the trade with Toronto. Because as our depth has been tested here, especially - you can’t predict what was going to happen to our centermen.

Now that this has happened, you’ve got somebody that’s played in the league and has got pro experience. He’s got a lot of NHL attributes, especially his shot. Just being in the morning skate this morning watching him shoot that puck was really encouraging. Definitely somebody that obviously now we really need. Good chance he’s going to get a shot tonight.

Question: What did you guys do well - I know you didn’t score [in the 1-0 overtime loss to the New York Rangers last week] - but what did you do well in that game in Tampa?

Cooper: Actually, I thought we did everything well. We did everything but score. Sometimes in games, when the goaltenders are the two best players on the ice, you’re usually going to see a low-scoring game. That’s what happened.

Cooper: We blinked at the end when we gave up the breakaway to a player that’s really good at putting breakaways in the back of the net. That’s how that game ended. We walked away there knowing we should’ve got points out of that game, we did. We needed the second one more than the Rangers did, so hopefully we can turn the tide with them tonight.

Question: Speaking of the playoffs, do you think that [Nikita] Kucherov has made a convincing case to be a Hart trophy finalist [for NHL’s most valuable player]?

Cooper: [laughs] You’re asking the wrong guy. I know on this team, he’s our - definitely our Hart trophy candidate. When we needed him most, which is this stretch here where we’ve - our last 15 games, he’s the guy that’s - we’ve jumped on his back.

I’d be remiss not to mention [Andrei] Vasilevskiy because he’s been a standout for us as well, but Kuch has put us on his back. You talk about most valuable players to their team, especially down the stretch, that’s been Kuch.

Question: His success on the power play this year - is that him [Kucherov] or is it changes you’ve made to kind of accentuate what he does?

Cooper: I would say there’s probably a little bit of both. I think a lot of it is the player. He’s - you can always get more experience in the league. You can find out what you can do, what you can’t do, what you can get away with. He’s grown into himself. His shot’s gotten better. His vision.

Cooper: I also think we’ve - [Assistant Coach] Todd Richards has done a really good job with the power play and put him in the best position to score. I think that’s a big part of it as well. But the onus is on a lot of the player and he’s taken it to another level.

Question: Is Peter Budaj starting tonight?

Cooper: Peter Budaj is starting tonight.

Question: Why? Why not Vasilevskiy?

Cooper: [chuckles] We’ve had a lot of success with Vasy playing him every second, every third day and he’s played really well. When he went through this stretch of playing back-to-backs in - I think it was December, what have you. It just - I don’t know if it was too much too soon or what have you. Either we weren’t as good in front of him or he wasn’t at the top of his game.

You have to understand - our number one goal is to make the playoffs, but it’s also still - our goaltender is young and developing. We’ve got him in a really good groove here. There’s no sense in breaking that groove, because there’s a lot of games left he still has to play.

On the other side of things, Buds [Budaj] is a heck of a goaltender. He’s only played one start with us, but he was exceptional in that start. We’ve got him here for a reason and that’s to give Vasy a rest when he needs it. Tonight’s his turn in the rotation.

Question: With all the injured centers you have, you have a lot of options as far as guys who can play both positions [center and wing]. What have you thought of [Jonathan] Drouin at center? What you saw?

Cooper: Well he’s played a little bit at center. He played the other night, takes [face-off] draws for us. Everybody’s chipping in in that regard. We’ll see just how everything plays out tonight, but there’s another that can play in the middle.

Question: Are you - I mean you’re in the middle of a playoff race and you have to figure you’re out about six guys here. What’s this like? How different is this?

Cooper: The part that’s tough about this is we don’t have any margin for error. If this happened to the [Washington] Capitals or Columbus [Blue Jackets] or Pittsburgh [Penguins] or [New York] Rangers or something like that. You kind of weather through it because they’ve created that point cushion for themselves. Well, we haven’t created. We have not created that point cushion for ourselves. That’s what - everything gets magnified now when guys start dropping like this.

On the other side of things, the guys that have stepped in - the Yanni Gourde’s, we’ll see how Froese does, and [Matthew] Peca the other night and Adam Erne and down the list. They’re all contributing. A guy like Yanni Gourde comes up for his second stint with us and scores arguably the biggest goal of the game in that short-handed goal to tie the game for us.

Cooper: You’re really finding out a lot about some of your players. I know it’s only a few games, but that Minnesota [Wild] game and the Florida [Panthers] game were pretty gutty efforts by our guys in some short-handed situations. It’s been fun to watch.

The tough thing is going to be able to sustain this. Especially in a back-to-back against two teams that are playing pretty well. Those - we’ll get to see where we’re at.