Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Lightning rookies have more to learn

Tampa Bay Lightning right wing J.T. Brown (23) battles Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Franson (4) while getting checked during first period action at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa Thursday evening (02/06/14).


Tampa Bay Lightning right wing J.T. Brown (23) battles Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Franson (4) while getting checked during first period action at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa Thursday evening (02/06/14).

The Lightning has benefited greatly this season from the play of its rookies, and heading into the pivotal final 15 games of the regular season, it has seven on the roster.

As much as the rookies have contributed, they are still learning that the last quarter of an NHL season, in terms of intensity and competitiveness, is nothing like the first three quarters.

"Team defenses are a lot stronger," rookie center Tyler Johnson said. "You don't have as much open space. Guys are battling a lot harder in front of the net. Guys are whacking and hacking, making sure you don't get those second and third opportunities."

How Tampa Bay's rookies react to those challenges might play a big part in determining if the team reaches the postseason and how it fares if it gets there.

"We're still trying to adjust a little bit," Johnson said. "Every game is going to be that much harder from here on out, and the playoffs are going to be a whole different ballpark."

As defenseman Sami Salo, 39, said, "You have to go through the experience to realize what it takes to get to the playoffs. It's another level."

Is wing J.T. Brown, who on Saturday ended an eight-game pointless streak, struggling with that higher level? How about wing Nikita Kucherov, with one point in his past 10 games? And wing Richard Panik, who has zero points in four games after being recalled from AHL Syracuse?

"I can't say enough about how hard these guys have worked," coach Jon Cooper said generally of his first-year players.

"But you're looking at 21-, 22-, 23-year-olds who haven't been through not just the physical grind but the highs and lows of everything that goes into preparing for a game in the NHL."

Tampa Bay's rookies know what it means to amp up for late-season games because of their AHL Calder Cup championship run with Norfolk in 2011-12 and getting to the final last season with Syracuse.

And players such as Johnson and left wing Ondrej Palat (because of the injury to Steven Stamkos and the trade of Marty St. Louis) and defenseman Radko Gudas (because of the top-four minutes he has played) have gained valuable experience.

"So as far as being in situations and what we have to do," Johnson said, "I think we've pretty much all been there."

But in the NHL, it's not the same as done that.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at

Lightning rookies have more to learn 03/15/14 [Last modified: Saturday, March 15, 2014 11:40pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. NFL owners' unity with players might be short-lived


    The image was striking — several owners of NFL teams locking arms with their players on the sidelines Sunday, and the Cowboys' Jerry Jones on Monday night, in a dramatic statement of defiance to a president who ridiculed their sport and condemned players for refusing to stand during the national anthem as a …

    Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, currently without a team, has cited racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons for not standing during the national anthem. [Associated Press]
  2. Anthem protest, the latest: Jerry Jones joins Cowboys on field in show of solidarity


    As President Donald Trump continued tweeting Monday about his displeasure with NFL players for staging demonstrations during the national anthem, the Cowboys took a knee on the field just before the anthem was performed on Monday Night Football. Dallas players were joined by owner Jerry Jones, and they quickly …

    Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, center, joins the team in taking a knee before the national anthem Monday night. They stood and linked arms for the anthem.
  3. Bucs journal: Gerald McCoy says players who kneel have team's support


    TAMPA — Receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson were the only Bucs players kneeling during the national anthem before Sunday's game against the Vikings, but DT Gerald McCoy said the team supports their protest "100 percent."

    Bucs tight end Cameron Brate pulls in a touchdown catch as Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo (34) hits him in the back of the head.
  4. Rays at Yankees, 7:05 p.m. Tuesday, New York

    The Heater

    Tonight: at Yankees

    7:05, Yankee Stadium, New York

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    Tampa Bay Rays' Blake Snell poses for a picture during the team's photo day at baseball spring training in Port Charlotte, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  5. Luke Del Rio regains UF starting job, for now


    GAINESVILLE — Luke Del Rio is once again the starting quarterback for No. 21 Florida.

    Luke Del Rio provided a needed spark when he replaced starter Feleipe Franks and rallied Florida past Kentucky.