Tuesday, October 16, 2018
  • Lightning Strikes

Tyler Johnson not stressing slow start

Lightning center Tyler Johnson had the chance for a game-breaking goal Friday night against the Capitals.

With the game tied midway through the second, Johnson, 27, broke free on a shorthanded breakaway. His trademark speed was there, but with a defender on his heels, Johnson's wrist shot deflected off goalie Philipp Grubaeur's blocker high and wide.

Just a little bit off. It's been the story of the season so far for Johnson, who entered Saturday with a 12-game goal drought, one shy of his career-long (13, which actually spanned between two seasons, April 11-Oct 31, 2015).

Johnson, who has just nine points (four goals) in 22 games, said his confidence isn't shaken.

"I judge it more on chances," Johnson said. "And right now, as a line, we're getting a lot of chances. They just aren't going in for whatever reason. That will change. It's just the ebb and flows of the season."

With the Lightning often going with 11 forwards, Johnson said it was initially a tough adjustment playing on the swing third line, which includes Alex Killorn and a rotating wing (typically from the top two lines).

"It's something I've never done before," Johnson said. "You want to talk to our linemates after a shift on the bench, and one of them is already on the ice."

Johnson said he's feeling better about it now, but he's still averaging just 1.68 shots per game, the lowest in his career. That's a shot fewer than during his 29-goal season in 2014-15.  Johnson is still getting power play time on the second unit, and coach Jon Cooper dubs him a "valuable utility player" for his work on the penalty kill. But it's probably not the type of production the Lightning expected when signing the former All-Star to a seven-year, $35 million deal in the summer.

Johnson had been so encouraged after the longest summer of his hockey career. He changed to a Keto diet, feeling "10 times better" than last season. He actually got to do strength training, too. Everyone wondered what a finally healthy Johnson could do.

But with Brayden Point's emergence, the second-year pro elevating into a top-six spot, Johnson hasn't been quite as effective, dynamic in a bottom-six role. His minus-7 is a bit uncharacteristic, though Cooper said Johnson had some bad breaks, a "victim of circumstance."

"His effort has been there," Cooper said. "And that's what you're looking for."

Every team needs secondary scoring, and everyone knows Johnson's penchant for being clutch in the playoffs (42 points in 47 games). That could loom large if the Lightning's season continues to be as special as many think it can be.

And Johnson has a little history on his side. The last time he went through this long of a single-season slump was the beginning of the 2014-15 season. He went 11 games without a goal. But Johnson finished with a career-high 29, lifting the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final.

More notes: Expect Peter Budaj to start tonight against the Penguins; Budaj is 2-1 with a 1.98 goals against average in his last three starts against Pittsburgh, including one shutout…. F Chris DiDomenico, claimed off waivers from Ottawa Friday, has been sent to AHL Syracuse on a conditioning loan, which could last up to two weeks. Interesting stat, Nikita Kucherov and Sidney Crosby both have 87 goals and 15 game-winners the past three seasons, per STATS INC.