Why temporarily splitting up Triplets makes sense
Lightning coach Jon Cooper has often joked that he wasn't smart enough to put the Triplets line together, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov only united due to injuries last October.
But Cooper also said he wasn't dumb enough to break them up after they became one of the league's most productive and dynamic lines last season.
There is, however, a chance the Triplets don't open Tuesday's game against the Red Wings together. And Cooper would actually be smart to split them, even if it's temporary.
Stay with me here. You saw how the Lightning came alive Sunday after Cooper put Palat on the top line with Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan to open the second period. Thirty six seconds later, Palat forced a turnover and found Callahan for a tone-setting goal. Johnson and Kucherov, who played with Alex Kilorn, also looked good, Johnson snapping his season-long slump with his first goal.
The Triplets, getting significant attention from opposing teams, have just one even-strength goal together through the first 13 games. They haven't played poorly, though their numbers don't pop off the page, Kucherov with three goals, Palat with two, Johnson with one, the trio a combined even rating.
Cooper has said he's not married to any line, even them, and has shown that by breaking the Triplets up in three games so far. With the Lightning having struggled to score, except for Sunday's four-goal outburst to end a four-game losing streak, why not give teams another look? Palat said they'd be all for it.
"Oh yeah, sure," Palat said. "It didn't work for us, got split up. I played with Stammer and Cally. They played great with Killer. Sometimes it's good to shake it up a little bit.
"As long as we're winning, I don't care."
Palat made Stamkos' line better, giving him another playmaking wing who can drive the net, retrieve the puck, while also being responsible defensively. "You know what you're going to get from him every night," Stamkos said.
The combo of Kucherov and Johnson has obvious chemistry, along with a power forward in Killorn. When Jonathan Drouin comes back later this week, if he doesn't rejoin Stamkos' line, he could play with Kucherov and Johnson, with Killorn dropping down to join Valtteri Filppula, who he has experience with.
Of course, the Triplets could easily be reunited for Tuesday's morning skate at Joe Louis Arena. But if they're not, it may not be a bad thing.
"They're three really good hockey players," Cooper said of the Triplets. "And sometimes, when it's not going together, they can help make other guys better. And they can be helped to be better from other guys. It worked (Sunday), so we'll see how this goes moving forward. It is a team game, but we know how important those guys to our team and whether they play together, they're a big part of us."