Next man up? It might be easier said than done as the Tampa Bay Lightning gear up for their most important game of the season.
The status of Nikita Kucherov for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals is uncertain. If he doesn’t play, the Lightning will be without one of their best offensive players as they face elimination Monday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Kucherov is second on the team with 22 points this postseason, and his puck-possession numbers are strong as well. The Lightning have generated 131 more shot attempts and 92 more scoring chances than their opponent when Kucherov is on the ice this postseason, per war-on-ice.com.
Kucherov has spent the season on Tampa Bay’s dynamic “Triplets” line with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. They combined for 73 goals and 199 points this season, with all three ranking in the top four of the NHL in plus/minus.
If Kucherov is unable to play, who will replace him on the “Triplets” line?
Option No. 1: Stamkos
Steven Stamkos has struggled in the Stanley Cup finals. After recording a team-best 43 goals during the regular season, the captain has no goals and one point in the series against the Blackhawks. Johnson and Palat have one goal apiece in the series.
Stamkos would probably help on faceoffs. Johnson, the line’s usual center, has taken one draw since Game 2, and Palat has stepped in and struggled. After taking 35 draws during the regular season, Palat has won 36.3 percent (16-of-44) in the finals. Stamkos won 49.7 percent of his faceoffs during the season.
Although Stamkos produced a positive SAT rating playing with Johnson and Palat, the Stamkos-Filppula-Killorn combination produced Tampa Bay’s only goal Saturday night.
Option No. 2: Drouin
If coach Jon Cooper wants to maintain the line’s youthful energy, he might opt for 20-year-old Jonathan Drouin. The third pick in the 2013 draft, Drouin tallied four goals and 28 assists during the regular season.
Drouin played more with Johnson and Palat than he did with any other forwards in Game 5. Drouin spent more than five minutes of ice time with them Saturday, registering a plus-6 in on-ice shot attempts over that stretch compared with plus-1 in all other situations (war-on-ice.com).
Drouin has been a healthy scratch for 20 games of the playoffs, however, and has not been effective when he has played. He has suited up twice in the finals and has no points with a minus-6 rating in five games this postseason.
Option No. 3: Callahan
Ryan Callahan, who plays right wing like Kucherov, leads Lightning forwards with four points in the finals and would be expected to add physical play to the line. His 22 hits lead the series.
Callahan’s puck-possession numbers have also been strong. The Lightning have generated 31 more shot attempts than the Blackhawks with Callahan on ice in the series (war-on-ice.com). Teammate Victor Hedman has been the only player on either team to put up better numbers in that regard.
But Callahan lacks experience playing with Johnson and Palat. Callahan spent most of the season on either Stamkos’ line or the checking line. For the entire series, Callahan has shared the ice for 3:03 with Palat and 4:52 with Johnson (war-on-ice.com).