Friday, November 24, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

As Brown's play rises, so does his Lightning playing time

RECOMMENDED READING


WASHINGTON — In crunch time Wednesday, the Lightning and Kings in a 3-on-3 overtime period, Tampa Bay wing J.T. Brown got as many shifts as All-Star center Tyler Johnson.

"He's earned it," coach Jon Cooper said.

Ice time is a coach's biggest currency, his highest compliment. And Brown, 25, has received six minutes more per game in the past four, jumping from an average of 9 minutes, 46 seconds in the first 19 games to 15:45. That's because Brown is playing arguably the best hockey — or at least the most well-rounded — of his pro career.

With the Lightning shorthanded because of injuries, needing grit and goals, Brown has been equal part pest and playmaker, sparking a three-game winning streak heading into tonight's game against the Capitals.

"At the highest-pressure-packed times of our season, J.T. Brown has played the best," Cooper said. "For back-to-back playoff years, J.T. Brown has been one of our best players, going back to the Montreal series two years ago, and last year's run. And now that we've been (on) a little bit of a roller-coaster at the beginning of the season, J.T. Brown has emerged as one of our most consistent players. That says a lot about the kid."

The last time Brown played this much was in last season's Stanley Cup final, when he, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan were entrusted with shutting down Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Brown insists he has not changed much in his preparation or style. But you can't help but notice a rise in confidence.

Brown has four assists in the past six games, including a beautiful setup on Valtteri Filppula's shorthanded winner Nov. 19 against the Rangers. He has been more aggressive offensively, tallying a team-high six shots Wednesday and five Nov. 16 versus Florida, with two goals and five assists for the season.

"Things have been going my way maybe more so than the past," Brown said. "I'm going to keep riding that out."

With the Lightning without injured agitator Paquette, Brown has fearlessly gotten under opponents' skin. Brown, at 5 feet 10 and 175 pounds, has always had a physical element to his game, taking it from his father, Ted, a former N.C. State and Minnesota Vikings running back. But Brown also has been a strong scorer, racking up 24 goals for national champion Minnesota-Duluth in his senior season, 2011-12, earning most outstanding player honors at the Frozen Four.

However, to reach the NHL and stick there, Brown, like many other players, has had to adapt his game to a bottom-six role, knowing that checking and defending will get him in the lineup.

"If you're going to reach this level, you've had to have scored somewhere," Cooper said. "You don't reach this level being, 'Oh, this kid in mites was a defensive checking forward and he carried that all the way up.' You have to have another part of your game. It's the NHL, where guys have to reinvent themselves, and J.T. has done just that."

Said Brown: "Everybody wants to score those goals and be able to score 30 goals. But at the end of the day, not everybody can do that. Everyone has to have a certain role on the team, and I found one that's worked so far."

The goals have been elusive for Brown, who had just seven in his first 120 NHL games. He seemed snakebitten, whether it was missing the net on an odd-man rush or getting robbed by a goaltender.

"It's weird how scorers feel," Brown said. "If you're feeling good, you're going to make that shot, you're going to make that pass. When things aren't going your way, you clench your stick a little too much, things slowly but surely start bouncing over your stick. For me, it's trying to stay level."

Being married now likely helps keep him on an even keel. Brown met his wife, Lexi LaFleur, on Twitter while playing in AHL Syracuse, the two turning a fan-player connection into a small courthouse ceremony in February. The couple plans to have a bigger wedding in the summer, he hopes after another long playoff run.

Knowing Brown, he'd be a big part of that run.

Contact Joe Smith at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

Comments
Don’t forget Ryan Callahan in Lightning’s resurgence

Don’t forget Ryan Callahan in Lightning’s resurgence

WASHINGTON — Much has been made about the impact on the Lightning of a healthy C Steven Stamkos, who missed most of last season after knee surgery.But don’t forget about RW Ryan Callahan, 32, who is looking like his old self after hip problems plague...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Nikita Kucherov really does admire Patrick Kane

Nikita Kucherov really does admire Patrick Kane

TAMPA — Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov has watched plenty of film on Blackhawks star Patrick Kane.Kucherov marveled how the 2015-16 league MVP uses deception to "hide" from defenders. He noticed how patient Kane was with the puck, how well he passed ...
Published: 11/22/17
Lightning beats Blackhawks in OT

Lightning beats Blackhawks in OT

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. "A big boun...
Published: 11/22/17

Joe Smith’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Lightning-Blackhawks game

Every Lightning-Blackhawks game at Amalie Arena has a good representation of red in the stands. And Wednesday’s matchup was no exception, with a large contingent of transplants and travelers. "It feels like half the city of Chicago is traveling down ...
Published: 11/22/17

‘Good chance’ Cedric Paquette back for Lightning

For Cedric Paquette, the wait may finally be over.Paquette said there's a good chance he returns to the Lightning lineup tonight against the Blackhawks at Amalie Arena (7:30 p.m., NBCSN). Paquette had missed the last 13 games with an undisclosed inju...
Published: 11/22/17
Lightning-Blackhawks: Tampa Bay is killing it on penalty-killers

Lightning-Blackhawks: Tampa Bay is killing it on penalty-killers

BRANDON — A successful penalty kill begins long before the offending Lightning player, whistled two minutes earlier for some infraction, leaves the box with the score unchanged.It begins with a detailed scouting report of the opposing team’s power pl...
Published: 11/21/17
Lightning impressed with improved offense from defensemen

Lightning impressed with improved offense from defensemen

BRANDON — At one point during Saturday’s game against the Islanders, the Lightning was first in the NHL in points and second in points scored by its defensemen. That’s one reason the team is off to the best start in franchise history.It’s also by des...
Published: 11/20/17
Lightning’s rare loss produces reality check

Lightning’s rare loss produces reality check

TAMPA — Jon Cooper stood at the podium late Saturday night to address the media after a regulation loss for only the third time this season."Let’s be honest," he said, "we’ve had one hell of a start."The loss, he added, was frustrating, even when you...
Published: 11/19/17
Lightning finds its game too late, loses to Islanders

Lightning finds its game too late, loses to Islanders

TAMPA — The firepower showed up in the third period.Yanni Gourde and Ondrej Palat scored 13 seconds apart. Gourde scored again.Suddenly it was a one-goal game, and the Lightning appeared on its way to one of those comeback wins that would be remember...
Published: 11/18/17
Lightning journal: Jon Cooper thrilled with stellar start

Lightning journal: Jon Cooper thrilled with stellar start

TAMPA — If you told coach Jon Cooper his team would open the season with wins in 15 of the first 19 games, well, "I’m not sure I can sit here and say I would have predicted that," he said Saturday morning.But the Lightning did just that to lead the N...
Published: 11/18/17