TAMPA — Rookie RW Nikita Kucherov burst on to the Lightning scene with electrifying flare.
On the first shift in his first game and his first shot on goal, Kucherov beat New York G Henrik Lundqvist for his first career goal on Nov. 25.
While that was an unlikely start to the career for the former 2011 second-round draft pick, what hasn’t been a surprise is his recent drop in production.
Like most first-year players, Kucherov - with eight goals and 15 points in 40 games - has seen a slide in his offensive game, entering Saturday without a goal since Jan. 19 and only four assists in that same span. Kucherov has generated only 14 shots on goal in the 13 games since his last goal.
So with a big, physical matchup against the Bruins on Saturday, Kucherov was a healthy scratch to allow the 20-year-old the chance to watch a game from upstairs.
“He’s a highly skilled rookie who hasn’t found the back of the net for a little bit and you can see him squeezing the stick a little bit,’’ associate coach Rick Bowness said. “And this is a big physical team and it’s hard to find any room out there so if there is a night he can sit back and watch, this is the game. And one of the benefits of sitting above is you realize that sometimes there really is more time out there than you feel on the ice. Sometimes you get out there and you feel so crowded because of the size of the guys, you feel you don’t have as much time as you think.
“But you sit upstairs and you see there is a little bit more room out there, so honestly, sometimes it’s better to just sit and watch a game.’’
Kucherov, in his first year as a professional, knows his offensive game needs improvement.
“I don’t feel good the way I’ve been playing right now, I’ve been down in a slump,’’ Kucherov. “I feel like I’ve lost my confidence and I can’t score in games. I don’t know what to do, keep working harder, not think about anything and maybe I just close my eyes and put the puck in the net.’’
In addition to Steven Stamkos being named as new Lightning captain on Thursday, veteran D Eric Brewer was named an alternate captain for the remainder of the season. Nate Thompson and Matt Carle will rotate as the additional alternate captains, with Carle wearing the “A’’ at home games and Thompson during road games.
Though Brewer, who served as a captain during his days in St. Louis, has always been a respected member of the team’s leadership group since arriving via trade in 2011, putting the letter on his jersey is a sign of recognizing what he brings in terms of his leadership.
“He’s a true professional and he’s played very, very well for us all year,’’ Bowness said of Brewer. “His play has been consistent, he’s been our best penalty killer on the blue line and his minutes are important minutes. He brings that professionalism and attitude every day. He’s one of the first guys here every day, he’s one of the hardest workers every day and he’s just been consistent. So this is just a sign of recognition and respect for what we (the coaches) see and his teammates are well aware of it.’’
Former first-round pick D Slater Koekkoek will undergo his third surgery in as many years after he dislocated his right shoulder during a fight Thursday night for Windsor in the Ontario Hockey League. Koekkoek previously had surgery to repair his left shoulder, both in 2012 and 2013.
This surgery is not related to either of his first two shoulder procedures. Koekkoek will undergo an MRI on Monday and a date for the surgery will be determined after the testing is completed.
Koekkoek held a plus-44 rating through 62 games and was third in team scoring with 53 points on 15 goals and 38 assists while averaging over 30 minutes per night for the Spitfires.
“Slater has been playing big minutes for us this season and was a team leader,’’ Windsor general manager Warren Rychel said in a release. “This is a freak accident.’’
Nuts and Bolts
LW Ryan Malone, RW B.J. Crombeen, D Radko Gudas (lower body) and Kucherov were scratched. ... Cooper did not speak to the media following the morning skate, deferring to Bowness, just as a change of pace. ... C Tyler Johnson leads all rookies with four shorthanded points. ... Tampa Bay’s eight shorthanded goals are tied for thrid in the league.