Sunday, November 19, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning's Johnson healthy, happy again after injury-plagued season

RECOMMENDED READING


TAMPA — This is how Lightning center Tyler Johnson is supposed to look.

He fired off wrist shots with no limitations in Tuesday's exhibition opener against Carolina.

He pinned 6-foot-3, 205-pound defenseman Josh Wesley into the backboards on a forecheck, setting up a goal.

But the most striking sight for coach Jon Cooper was the blur Johnson, 26, left in his wake.

"His burst of speed," Cooper said. "He never had that in the first three months last year."

Truth is, Johnson didn't have much of anything in the first half of last season. The severity of his broken right wrist, suffered during the 2015 Stanley Cup final, was "much worse than we ever anticipated," Cooper said. The injury lingered, wearing on Johnson physically and mentally. He couldn't even do a pushup until January.

"He was trucking uphill all year," Cooper said.

But after a full summer of workouts, Johnson entered camp "stronger than I've ever been," driven to return to his All-Star form of 2014-15, when he scored 29 goals.

"I can't wait for this season, to really show what I can do," Johnson said. "I've got to get back to the player I know I can be."

That's good news for the Lightning, which needs Johnson to be his old self if it wants to win the elusive Stanley Cup. And the renewed health comes at a fortuitous time for Johnson, who can be a restricted free agent next summer.

"To see him now, you just see his demeanor and the way he is, it's night and day compared to the way he came into last year's camp," Cooper said.

•••

Johnson entered last season's camp saying, at least publicly, all the right things.

He was fine. He wasn't worrying about his wrist.

The truth? The wrist — which affects nearly everything he does on the ice, from faceoffs to shooting — had no strength or flexibility. Johnson tried to tough it out, which is not surprising considering how the undersized, undrafted forward had to fight his way into the NHL. But it's also no coincidence that he had four goals in his first 29 games.

"He didn't verbalize it, but you knew he was getting taped up all the time … working with certain braces," wing Alex Killorn said. "To come into a season with that, it's just a pain."

The injury didn't hamper Johnson just physically, but also mentally.

"Any time you get a little whack or hit, it definitely hurts, and then you start thinking about that," Johnson said. "You try to be a little bit more safe on that. And once you play safe, that's when other things happen."

But it was another injury, in the upper body, in December that allowed Johnson to rest and reset. He got better as the season wore on, finishing with 14 goals, including seven in the playoffs.

"I still think I could have been at another level," Johnson said.

Johnson didn't realize how weak he was until he began summer workouts. By July he finally felt 100 percent. He focused on his explosiveness, and it has paid off.

"I feel like my speed is there," Johnson said. "My game is a speed game, I have to have that."

You know what's also back? His smile. His swagger. Freed of physical limitations, Johnson feels normal. He can just play.

"It just makes the game a lot more fun," Johnson said. "Last year there were a lot of times where I wasn't having fun playing. That's tough. But I had fun (Tuesday)."

And, he hopes, more fun is to come.

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

Comments
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...
Updated: 6 hours ago
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...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Roger Mooney’s takeaways from Lightning-Islanders

Roger Mooney’s takeaways from Lightning-Islanders

This is what happens when you have the best record in the league: You get the best from the other team. The Islanders came out strong and the Lightning couldn’t match it, falling behind 4-0 early in the third. For the most part, the Lightning has bee...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Early Lightning awards: Tough call on MVP

Early Lightning awards: Tough call on MVP

TAMPA — It’s still way early, but if the Lightning’s record start continues, there will be a lot of hardware up for grabs. And we’re not just talking about the Stanley Cup. Nikita Kucherov has league MVP written all over him. Andrei Vasilevskiy coul...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Red-hot Lightning leading NHL in more than wins

Nikita Kucherov, top left, celebrates with teammate Steven Stamkos (91) after scoring against Florida Panthers goalie James Reimer. [AP photo]The Lightning (15-2-2) enters tonight’s game against the visiting Islanders (10-6-2) leading the leagu...
Published: 11/18/17
Brayden Point becomes ‘the heartbeat’ of the Lightning

Brayden Point becomes ‘the heartbeat’ of the Lightning

TAMPA — A local TV crew set up shop in front of Brayden Point’s locker stall the other day, waiting for the Lightning forward to be ready.Then, captain Steven Stamkos walked into the room for his scrum. It didn’t take long for the TV crew to change c...
Published: 11/17/17
Lightning pummels Stars for fifth straight win

Lightning pummels Stars for fifth straight win

TAMPA — The Lightning welcomed Ben Bishop back with a classy, fitting video tribute in Thursday’s first period. The sellout crowd of 19,092 at Amalie Arena gave Bishop, the greatest goalie in franchise history, a standing ovation. It was an emotional...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Lightning journal: Specials teams in the spotlight vs. Stars

Lightning journal: Specials teams in the spotlight vs. Stars

TAMPA — C Braydon Point’s shorthanded goal tipped the game in the Lightning’s favor and the three penalties it killed during the second period kept it that way in Thursday’s 6-1 victory against the Stars.Dallas entered the game with an NHL-best 30.2 ...
Published: 11/16/17

Joe Smith’s takeaways from Thursday’s Lightning-Stars game

There was a classy, fitting video tribute to former Lightning goalie Ben Bishop in the first period. Think of all the moments in his five seasons in Tampa Bay. It had to be emotional for Bishop, who calls Tampa his second home. He touched his heart a...
Published: 11/16/17
Lightning vs. Stars vs. Bishop vs. No. 1 PP in NHL

Lightning vs. Stars vs. Bishop vs. No. 1 PP in NHL

Stars’ G Ben Bishop returns to Amalie Arena tonight for the first time since his last home game as a Lightning, which came before last season’s trade deadline.The teacher vs. the pupil (Lightning G Andrei Vasilevskiy) is one story line.He...
Published: 11/16/17