Sunday, January 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning's Drouin rounds back into form

ANAHEIM, Calif — With Jonathan Drouin having missed six consecutive games, and 11 of the Lightning's past 15, coach Jon Cooper made sure to check in on the touted wing often in his much-anticipated return Wednesday.

"And he was ready to go," Cooper said.

Boy, was he. Drouin was dazzling in lifting Tampa Bay to a much-needed 2-1 win over the Ducks at the Honda Center. Drouin, 20, sidelined due to two injuries, showed little rust in scoring the game's first goal and setting up the winner with a slick assist on Jonathan Marchessault's power-play tally in the second period. That has given a huge boost in confidence to Drouin, the 2013 No. 3 overall draft pick.

"That first period, my lungs were a little heavy there," said Drouin, 20. "You sit on the bench and … you don't want to go back on. But as the game went on, I felt better and better. Definitely happy with it."

There were many reasons the Lightning won Wednesday, especially Ben Bishop, who continued his dominance of the Ducks with 32 saves. The 6-foot-7 goalie, who is 6-0-1 against Anaheim, made one glove save late that led Ducks star Corey Perry to jokingly ask if his arms were of legal length.

"You need your goaltender to be your best player, and when he is, usually good things can happen," Cooper said. "That's what happened."

But for a shorthanded Lightning team that's struggling to score — it had two goals waved off Wednesday — Drouin provided a sizable spark.

"He looked fresh," Cooper said. "He had his legs, he was moving, he was making plays. … For missing as much as he has with injuries, to come back and have a game like that, it's a really good sign."

Drouin opened the scoring two minutes into the second on a sick shot from up close, finding a tiny hole between goalie John Gibson's pad and blocker.

"When he got the first goal, it seemed like it was a weight off everyone's shoulders," Cooper said.

Two potential go-ahead goals were waved off, Nikita Kucherov's deflection due to a high stick and an Alex Killorn power-play goal on a goalie interference call on Ryan Callahan (the latter upheld on Cooper's first coaches challenge of the season). But on the same power play, Drouin set up the winner, sending a perfect feed from behind the net in front to Marchessault.

"Right in my wheelhouse," Marchessault said.

"You know what he's capable of," Bishop said of Drouin. "I'd like to see him do it more often. Hopefully he can come back and build off this and keep this going."

Drouin looked a lot like the determined, confident Drouin the Lightning saw from the first day of training camp, the one who scored four preseason goals. Drouin, playing alongside captain Steven Stamkos, racked up six points in the first five games of the regular season, seeming destined for a breakout year.

But Drouin went pointless in the next five games, then missed five with a lower-body injury. At times it felt like Drouin was on a short leash with Cooper, logging just 9 minutes, 26 seconds, of ice time Nov. 12 against the Flames. Drouin's 13:48 Wednesday was more than only Erik Condra and Marchessault among Lightning forwards.

Cooper has said it's hard to find out what a player can do logging 8 to 10 minutes a night, a reason Vladislav Namestnikov was elevated to a top-six role in recent weeks. Namestnikov earned it with his play, "Outstanding," Drouin said.

And the line of Namestnikov, Drouin and Kucherov was flying Wednesday.

"All three of those guys all have speed, all got skill, and they can play the game," Cooper said.

It'll be interesting to see what happens when forward Tyler Johnson (undisclosed injury) comes back, possibly this weekend, as well as forward Ondrej Palat (left ankle) next week. Drouin is just happy to be playing again, with Wednesday, he hopes, becoming a springboard.

"The confidence is there," said Drouin, who has two goals and six assists in 15 games. "Points come. Points sometimes don't come. It's hard to say. But if I keep playing that way, it's definitely going to be good."

Comments
What’s gone wrong with Lightning?

What’s gone wrong with Lightning?

It didn't take the sound of a door slamming in the dressing room Saturday night to sense this Lightning team is frustrated.Tampa Bay felt like it worked hard – at least, harder than Thursday's listless loss to Vegas – yet dropped another ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Lightning falls to Wild, its fifth loss in seven games

Lightning falls to Wild, its fifth loss in seven games

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Lightning said all the right things about needing to look in the mirror and do some soul-searching during its recent funk. Veterans said they had to lead the way. Coach Jon Cooper believed this eight-game trip would "show us wha...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Mikhail Sergachev gets thrown into the fire for Lightning

Mikhail Sergachev gets thrown into the fire for Lightning

ST. PAUL, Minn. — For the first 20-plus games this season, Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness knew "the look" was coming.The other team’s top line would jump over the boards and Tampa Bay rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev would peek over at Bow...
Published: 01/20/18
Missing the Olympics a missed opportunity (and misstep) for NHL?

Missing the Olympics a missed opportunity (and misstep) for NHL?

One week from today, Tampa will be the center of the hockey world.The All-Star Game will be held at Amalie Arena. Players will smile for the cameras. They'll put on a fantastic show. Maybe they'll catch a bead or two from a Gasparilla parade.But you ...
Published: 01/20/18
Andrei Vasilevskiy: ‘I have to be better’

Andrei Vasilevskiy: ‘I have to be better’

The rest of the Lightning players had already left the ice Friday afternoon, heading into the dressing room for a quick change before the team's charter flight to Minnesota.But goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, 23, stayed on late, facing about 15 minutes mo...
Published: 01/20/18
Fennelly: Lightning needs a reset on the road … pronto

Fennelly: Lightning needs a reset on the road … pronto

TAMPA — Vegas has left the building.Wasn't the Lightning just arranging place settings for next weekend's NHL All-Star Game party?With that in mind, I headed to the home dressing room at Amalie Arena late Thursday after the Lightning was manhan...
Published: 01/19/18
Updated: 01/20/18
Golden Knights move within one point of Lightning for top spot in NHL

Golden Knights move within one point of Lightning for top spot in NHL

SUNRISE — Aaron Ekblad scored 40 seconds into overtime to lift the Panthers to a 4-3 victory over the Golden Knights on Friday, spoiling Vegas coach Gerard Gallant’s return to Florida. By gaining a point, Vegas moved within one point of the Lightning...
Published: 01/19/18
Time for Lightning leaders to snap team out of funk

Time for Lightning leaders to snap team out of funk

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Steven Stamkos sat at his stall in a near-empty Lightning dressing room Thursday and did what captains often do:He shouldered some blame for the Lightning's listless 4-1 loss to Vegas."As a leader, I've got to be a lot better,...
Published: 01/19/18
Why I hate the NHL All-Star Game

Why I hate the NHL All-Star Game

TAMPA — The NHL All-Star Game is coming to town next weekend, reaffirming our community's ability to step into the breach when needed. We don't stop until we get the Winter Olympics. So, don't be surprised if those next Rays stadium plans ...
Published: 01/19/18
Steven Stamkos: ‘I have to be a lot better’

Steven Stamkos: ‘I have to be a lot better’

There was plenty of blame to go around after the Lightning's 4-1 loss to the Golden Knights Thursday night.This loss wasn't on one person, no question.But captain Steven Stamkos showed some leadership by shouldering some responsibility for the team's...
Published: 01/19/18