Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Lightning: The secret's out. Vladislav Namestnikov is on fire

TAMPA — The Russian wing darted into the slot during the third period of the Lightning's win Thursday in L.A.

He instinctively ripped a rebound off the top-right corner crossbar into the net. Bar down. It was a goal scorer's goal.

"It looked like Kuch," Fox Sports Sun analyst Brian Engblom said.

Only it wasn't Nikita Kucherov. It was linemate Vladislav Namestnikov, who shouldn't be the forgotten man on the Lightning's dominant top line.

Namestnikov scored Sunday for the fourth time in the Lightning's three-game California sweep. His nine goals are one shy of last season's total. He might be playing the best hockey of his career.

You thought stopping Kucherov and Steven Stamkos was tough enough? Now Namestnikov is rolling.

"Obviously (Namestnikov) might fly under the radar on our line," Stamkos said. "But he's a huge piece. When he can be a threat to score, that just adds another element.

"Teams are having a difficult time defending us because everyone is a threat out on the ice. It's great to see him have success because he's earned it."

Stamkos and Kucherov own the headlines. The duo is No. 1 and No. 2 in the NHL in scoring. But associate coach Rick Bowness said, like many of the all-time duos, they don't work as well without a third partner. One who has the elite hockey mind — and speed —- to hang with elite scorers. One who is responsible defensively, especially when the others are up in the rush.

Stamkos points out Namestnikov is a second center on their line, which takes pressure off him, both in faceoffs and his own end.

"In order to be successful, you have to have guys that have the ability to understand their roles and Namestnikov has been outstanding with these guys," said NHL Network analyst Alex Tanguay, a former Lightning wing. "Giving them touches, giving them lanes to shoot, driving the net, making simple plays that allows those guys to play freely. And when those guys play freely and with confidence, good things are happening and that line is dynamite."

What Namestnikov has added more recently is aggressiveness. Namestnikov's 44 shots are already about 40 percent of last season's total (114). He has points in 14 of the team's 18 games.

"You've got to get over the fact of who you are playing with first," coach Jon Cooper said. "And then you have to accept the fact you do belong with that group.

"What I like about Vladdy and he's still not quite there yet but he's shooting pucks now. You've got to be around the net and shoot pucks to score goals in this league, and that's what he's doing. It's paying off."

It paid off in Sunday's 2-1 win at Anaheim as Namestnikov — positioned around the crease — put in a rebound in the second period. Namestnikov said his comfort level with his line has helped him in his hot start, how they understand each other.

Namestnikov's skill shouldn't be shocking. He's a former first-round pick, taken 27th in 2011 NHL draft — 31 selections before Kucherov.

"I always thought Vladdy is a good player, but he never really had a chance to play on the top line," Kucherov said. "And right now, you see he's building confidence. I thought he should have been up there a lot earlier."

Namestnikov couldn't have picked better timing. He's scheduled to be a restricted free agent next summer.

Is this his best stretch of hockey yet?

"It's hard to say," Namestnikov said, smiling. "I try not to think about it too much, just try to play the game the same way I've always played, just help contribute to the team and do my best."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTImes_JSmith.

Lightning: The secret's out. Vladislav Namestnikov is on fire 11/13/17 [Last modified: Monday, November 13, 2017 8:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Lightning beats Blackhawks in OT

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — The Lightning entered Wednesday's game against the Blackhawks determined to avoid its first losing streak of the season. And it did in dramatic fashion, with Brayden Point's power-play goal in overtime lifting it to a 3-2 victory.

    Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) gets to the puck ahead of Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan during the first period, in which Chicago had the better of play and a 2-0 lead.
  2. Basketball: USF Bulls bounce back with rout of Howard; FSU, Miami win

    College

    TAMPA — Three nights after running out of steam in a loss at Indiana, USF had enough to steamroll Howard of the MEAC.

  3. Bucs journal: Gerald McCoy says team has not turned the corner yet

    Bucs

    TAMPA — The Bucs have some positive momentum with back-to-back wins, but DT Gerald McCoy said it's too soon to say his 4-6 team has turned a corner.

    Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy pressures Dolphins QB Matt Moore (8) during Sunday’s game.
  4. Nikita Kucherov really does admire Patrick Kane

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov has watched plenty of film on Blackhawks star Patrick Kane.

    Nikita Kucherov, left, awaiting a faceoff with Patrick Kane (88) Wednesday, says everything Kane does is “easy and smooth.”
  5. Presenting the 2017 Sports Turkey of the Year

    College

    Happy Turkey Day!

    Today is a day of tradition.

    The Macy's parade. Turkey and stuffing. The Lions and Cowboys.

    And our annual "Turkey of the Year.''

    The public feud between LaVar Ball and Donald Trump earns them the honor of Co-Turkey's of the Year, an annual distinction bestowed by Times columnist Tom Jones. (Times wires)