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Johnson closing in on Stamkos' team rookie goals record



With 21 goals, Lightning center Tyler Johnson is just two away from tying Steven Stamkos' rookie team record of 23 set in 2008-09.

Johnson, 23, has been a horse lately with four goals and five points in a five-game points streak. Two of those goals were shorthanded. His four shorties are tied for the league lead.

But it was his proximity to Stamkos' record that drew the most attention heading into tonight's game with the Devils.

"I don't really think about it at all," Johnson said. "I'm just trying to help the team out and have as good a year as I possibly can."

Johnson, with 21 goals, 42 points and at plus-16 in 66 games, is having the kind of year that might get him some consideration for rookie of the year. His speed is a huge asset as is his ability to think the game and react quickly.

"He's gotten better as the season has gone on," Stamkos said. "He's a smart player, utilizes his speed. He's been great for us in all aspects of the game."

In a sense, Stamkos' absence for four months because of a broken right tibia contributed to some of Johnson's production.

"It forced (Johnson) into some situations he might not have played in," Cooper said.

While Stamkos was out, Johnson centered a line with right wing Marty St. Louis and Ondrej Palat. Now that Stamkos is back, Johnson is on right wing with Stamkos at center and Alex Killorn on the left.

Johnson said switching positions has not been an issue.

"Really, the only thing in our system that's any different is taking the draw," Johnson said. "Besides that, first guy back in nthe zone you're playing center. So even if i was playing center I might end up on the wall and end up playing wing. That happened a lot during gthe season."

Johnson has 16 games left to break Stamkos' record.

"When I come into a season, I don't try to think about goals and assist totals or anything like that," Johnson said. "I'm just trying to play and be a contributing factor to the team winning games. Whether it's points or blocking shots or playing on the penalty kill, mwhatever it entails. BUt it's been a pretty good year. I've had some luck playing with some pretty great players. It's been fun."

"He's a big part of our success," Stamkos said. "We need him to produce."

Other stuff from the morning skate: Ben Bishop gets the start in net against New Jersey. A victory would be his 31st and a new season record for Lightning goalies. Bishop is 1-2-2 in his past five starts with a 3.31 goals-against average and .878 save percentage. He has been the victim of some fluky goals and some less than stellar defense, but he clearly has dipped a bit from the unconscious performer of most of the season. "Do I sit here and hesitate when I circle Ben Bishop's name to start a game? Not a chance," Cooper said. "I just think he's going through a little bit of a string of stuff that hasn't happened to him all year." Bishop still is sixth in the league with a 2.14 goals-against average and third with a .928 save percentage and Tampa Bay has points in his past three starts (1-0-2). As Cooper said, "You've got to look at the b ig picture. You can't just look at short term." ... No word yet on scratches, though don't be surprised if left wing Ryan Malone gets a chance to play after four games as a healthy scratch. ... The Lightning has nine shorthanded goals this season, third in the league. Last season Tampa Bay had zero shorthanded goals and had just five in the past four years. "We've been putting a lot of pressure on teams," Cooper said. "We've got some guys who can scoot a little bit out there, so when you have some guys with speed on that side of the puck it really helps." In that regard, the Lightning has gotten more use on the penalty kill from faster skaters such as Johnson, Palat and J.T. Brown. Vallteri Filppula, called Filthy Mitts because of his puck possession skills, also gets plenty of PK time. Ryan Callahan has been added to the mix. And defenseman Victor Hedman leads the league with five shorthanded assists. "We're big believers that you can put a power play on the defensive when you have the puck," Cooper said. "We're doing a good job of not necessarily getting pucks 200 feet every time, but trying to make a play."

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