Palat could return, Triplets back together
The Triplets are back together.
The touted Lightning line - which had such a magical run last season - was reunited for Wednesday's practice, and presumably for Thursday's game against the Senators. A big part of that is that wing Ondrej Palat could return to the lineup after missing more than four weeks with a left ankle injury.
"Maybe that'll be a spark," wing Jonathan Drouin said.
Palat is a very underrated player, a strong 200-foot presence the Lightning has missed. He said he felt good today at practice, a possibility he returns Thursday.
"If you grab any team in the league and take arguably one of their top three most important players on your team, take him off and whatever those coaches would say, I'd reiterate," coach Jon Cooper said. He's a big part of our team."
The Triplets struggled to start the season, with just one even strength goal in the first 12 games, before getting split up. Injuries have taken its toll, with Tyler Johnson missing eight of the last 10 games with two separate injuries. Nikita Kucherov ranks second behind Steven Stamkos with eight goals.
"I think we weren't playing the way we wanted to play (earlier in the season)," Johnson said. "I think now, at this point of the season, I think everyonen feels better. I know I feel better now than I did at the beginning of the season. We can take advantage and hopefully just take off from there."
"We still had quite a bit of chances, but something - injuries, puck didn't go our way," Kucherov said. "Hopefully the puck is going to find a way in the net. We understand each other really well. It's going to be fun to play with them again."
Said Palat; "Hopefully we can get it going again."
With Palat returning, the Lightning could shift its lines around. Captain Steven Stamkos was back at center, with Jonathan Drouin and Alex Killorn. The Triplets were together, and Valtter Filppula centered a third line with J.T. Brown and Ryan Callahan.
Cooper said the team has to make a run now, the Lightning (13-12-3) still out of playoff position, and facing a Senators team that's six points ahead of them for the third spot in the Atlantic Division.
"It's big, we're chasing these guys," wing Ryan Callahan said. "Essentially it's a four point game."
The Lightning is still without Cedric Paquette (uppper body), who is still out another week or two, Cooper said. Erik Condra (lower body) is in "the same boat," at least out a week, which is disappointing for the former Senators forward. "Bad timing," he said. "Obviously I was excited, had this one marked on the calendar."
But Palat, if he returns Thursday, should be a big boost, and the Triplets might be the spark the team needs.
"It's three talented guys, last year we saw what they're capable of," Callahan said. "They didn't get off to the start they wanted as a group, but they didn't lose it. They know how to play together. You can just see in practice how they find each other. So it's exciting to see them back."