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Nikita Kucherov
Nikita Kucherov

 

 

DETROIT—Nikita Kucherov had synthetic ice laid down in his two-car garage to help him perfect the wicked shot and release that allows him to be one of the NHL’s most dangerous offensive threats.

The garage is his laboratory where the Tampa Bay Lightning star works for hours to refine technique, improve accuracy and experiment with ingenious ways to humble goaltenders. Twenty minutes per session. At least twice per day in the summer. But it’s not as if Kucherov has created a new shooting method. His formula for success is far from a secret.

“He works at his game,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Time and effort. He didn’t show up to Tampa in September. He showed up in July and he was on the ice four or five times a week just working on his game. We are reaping the benefits of that.”

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The Lightning’s 5-1 start is rooted in several factors, including GM Steve Yzerman’s off-season moves and Steven Stamkos’ good health, but Kucherov’s latest scoring binge is chief among them.

The Russian winger has scored in each of his team’s first six games, joining Mario Lemieux, Yzerman and Keith Tkachuk as the only NHL players to do that over the past 30 years.

“He’s a special player with a special shot,” Stamkos said.

Kucherov’s shot release seems is the merger of perfect hand-eye coordination, balance and technique. The movement of his stick seems effortless and yet the puck explodes off his blade.

“It’s like a sling shot,” said Stamkos, who knows plenty about shooting a puck.

Kucherov scored twice Monday in Tampa Bay’s 3-2 win against Detroit, giving him seven goals in six games. All of his goals are like works of art.

“(Look) at the different ways he’s scoring goals,” Stamkos said. “He’s got two beautiful backhanders, a couple of great wristers. He’s constantly working on his game.”

Stamkos compares Kucherov to former Lightning player Martin St. Louis in the way they worked at their craft. St. Louis averaged 32 goals per season for the Lightning from 2002-11.

“With the work ethic they both had — before practice, after practice — we shouldn’t be surprised by their success,” Stamkos said.

Kucherov’s elusiveness is the underappreciated aspect of his scoring touch. He creates shooting lanes with a carefully-considered plan of attack.

“You don’t want to be predictable,” Kucherov said. “Always try to make defenceman (wonder) what I am going to do next. Make them confused. Use their mistakes.”

This season is a continuation of Kucherov’s brilliance last season when he dominated in the second half in an unsuccessful effort to carry the Lightning into the playoffs. Cooper upped his playing time then, and now Kucherov is playing more than 20 minutes per game.

At 24, he’s just arriving in his prime years and we haven’t seen his best yet. He was one of three players who scored 40 or more last season.

“He scored 30, then he gets 40 and he’s not sitting around (saying) ‘I got 40.’ He says ‘I want to get 50.’ You like the hunger of that. But that doesn’t come easy.”

Cooper says the reason Kucherov gets 20-plus minutes is that he accepts his responsibility away from the puck. “He works at his 200-foot game,” Cooper said. “What why you can put him on the ice when you are trying to protect a lead.”

If Kucherov can score tonight at New Jersey, he can be the first NHLer to score in seven consecutive games to start a season since Keith Tkachuk did it in 2008-09. Lemieux also scored in seven consecutive games in 1992-93

Stamkos said Kucherov’s release ranks in the top three to five in the game today.

“And when you have confidence, it’s probably the best,” Stamkos said. “When you are on a streak like (Kucherov’s), you feel like you can’t miss. You feel like the puck is glued to your stick. You feel like anything you shoot goes in.”

Cheap Discount Toronto Maple Leafs Jersey

Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs

 

Tonight, the 3-0 Toronto Maple Leafs welcome the 2-0 New Jersey Devils to the Air Canada Centre for an early season tilt.

The Devils are hungry for their third straight win to open up the regular season. In order for the Toronto maple Leafs to beat the Devils, Mike Babcock needs to game-plan for Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier.

Taylor Hall

Let’s take a look at Hall first.

In his childhood, Hall played bantam and minor midget hockey for the Greater Kingston Pedrators. Scouts saw great talent in Hall’s game and he was selected second overall in the OHL entry draft by the Windsor Spitfires.

Hall had quite a stint in junior hockey. He helped the Windsor Spitfires to win back to back Memorials Cup in 2009 and 2010.

He was selected number one overall in 2010 NHL entry draft by the Edmonton Oilers. In six season with Edmonton, Hall tallied 298 points. Hall played on the top line alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. He is one of the NHL’s best players, when healthy.
Enter Peter Chiarelli

Peter Chiarelli, Edmonton’s General Manager took over the reins in April of 2015.

Chiarelli isn’t a huge fan of young talent and had made some very questionable trades in his past with the Boston Bruins. He was responsible for trading Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars after he claimed Seguin wasn’t mature enough to be a Bruin.

Shortly after Chiarelli joined Edmonton, he dealt Hall to the Devils in the most lop-sided trade in recent NHL history. The Oilers received Adam Larsson from the Devils.

I understand that Chiarelli felt that Edmonton struggled on defense and had a week top 4, but, trading Hall surely wasn’t worth it. Edmonton’s winger depth now is atrocious. Milan Lucic is past his prime, Patrick Maroon is inconsistent, and the Oilers’ prospects, Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi are still developing. The only elite winger the Oilers have right now in their top six is Leon Draisaitl, and he should be a centre.

The Oilers could use Hall right about now especially as they are looking at making a run for the Stanley Cup this season.
Welcome to the Garden State

Last season was Hall’s first in the Garden State. Hall had a decent season, but missed a few games early on with a torn meniscus. Hall was still able to provide the Devils with strong offensive play last year and tallied 20 goals and 33 assists.

To begin the 2017-18 season, Hall has three assists in two games. Hall is keen on getting the puck past Frederik Andersen tomorrow to notch his first goal of the campaign.

Nico Hischier

I am more concerned about Hischier than Hall.

Hischier hails from Naters, Switzerland and played for the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads last year.

Hischier had an impressive season in Halifax, totaling 38 goals and 48 assists in 57 games.

The Devils selected Hischier number one overall in the 2017 entry draft and Hischier is already making a strong impact in the Garden State. In his first two games with the Devils, he has an impressive corsi-for percentage of 59.1 and fenwick-for percentage of 58.8.

Hischier is being paired with Marcus Johansson, who had a career high in goals last season with the Washington Capitals. With Johansson at his side, Hischier has the potential to have a very strong offensive season.

As long as the Leafs game plan involves shutting down Hall and Hischier, they should feast upon the Devils tonight.
Prediction

My prediction for tonight’s game is that the Leafs will continue their winning streak and will defeat the Devils 5-2.

Until the Devils decide to pair, Hall, Hischier and Johansson. The Devils will fail to produce stellar offensive hockey.

Yes Devils’ fans may argue, that they have been doing quite well to open up the season. But, the Devils haven’t faced tough teams yet. They beat the Colorado Avalanche and the Sabres. Both teams who are destined to be golfing in mid-April.

I do believe that the Devils will have strong offensive seasons in the next five years. But, they need to add a few more pieces to their offense in order to really have a strong season and go far into the playoffs.