TAMPA — The goal Ondrej Palat scored Monday likely didn't make many highlight reels.
It came off a botched play by Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic, who coughed up a turnover behind his net early in the third period. Palat pounced on the loose puck in the crease for an easy tap-in.
"That was a gift," Palat said.
The Lightning wing will take it. For Palat, 25, it was just his second goal of the season and first in 10 games. And Palat hopes his performance in Monday's 3-1 loss, including a season-high seven shots on goal, could be the spark he needed heading into tonight's game against the Islanders at Amalie Arena.
"Sometimes you need those bounces to get going a little bit," Palat said. "I've had a rough couple games, couldn't score. I thought we played well; I played better last game. I hope we can produce more."
There's much more to Palat's game than goals. He's considered one of the league's most underrated two-way forwards. It's why he is relied upon in every situation, including the penalty kill and power play. But though plus-minus isn't the fairest gauge of a player's performance, Palat is an uncharacteristic minus-7 through 13 games. His possession numbers, however, remain on target.
"The plus-minus is bad this year," Palat said. "But I'm not trying to cheat. I'm playing honest and being on the right side of the puck. I believe it's going to turn for me. I'm not really worried. It's 82 games. I'm going to work hard, and hopefully it'll come."
Coach Jon Cooper said he never worries about players like Palat, or center Tyler Johnson (four goals, two assists, minus-6), who is also off to a slow start. Cooper, who has coached both since their days in AHL Norfolk, trusts their work ethic and track record.
"I've been around these guys for a long time. They seem to rise to the occasion every time they're needed," Cooper said. "There's ebbs and flows, ups and downs, whatever cliches you want to use, in a season. You can't have your A-plus game all the time, but you really look at, 'Are you giving an honest effort?' And they do all the time. As a coach, you can't complain about that."
It's a big season for Palat and Johnson; each can be a restricted free agent in the summer. With a salary cap crunch, the Lightning will have tough decisions to make. And Palat, who got married over the summer, admits his contract does cross his mind.
"I think everybody is thinking about it," Palat said. "It's the last year of your contract, it's always in your head. But I'm not trying to focus on it or think about it. Just trying to play for the team and it'll take care of itself."
DROUIN UPDATE: Right wing Jonathan Drouin will likely miss his fourth consecutive game tonight due to an injury suffered on a hit to the head by the Islanders' Calvin de Haan on Nov. 1. Drouin did not practice Wednesday but continues to work out and skate on his own. Cooper said he was unsure when Drouin would return.
"He's been doing all sorts of different things, whether it's skating or off-ice workouts," Cooper said. "He's gradually coming along here, but we don't have quite a timetable for him yet."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.