Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning's Triplets line split up, for now

DETROIT — The Triplets have been separated — at least, for now.

The touted Lightning line of C Tyler Johnson, LW Ondrej Palat and RW Nikita Kucherov was the league's most productive trio last season. But after some early-season struggles, coach Jon Cooper broke them up in three games, including Sunday's 4-3 win over Carolina.

And with that shakeup working, Cooper stuck with it Tuesday against Detroit, with the Triplets starting a regular-season game apart for the first time since October 2014.

"Like I've said before, it's '15-16, not '14-15," Cooper said. "Our identity as a team is coming together in a different way than it did last year, we're trying to find that chemistry and for a couple periods last game we found that, so we're going to roll with that."

Palat joined the top line with C Steven Stamkos and RW Ryan Callahan, with Johnson and Kucherov with LW Alex Killorn. Thanks to increased attention from opposing teams, the Triplets had just three even-strength points together in 13 games after racking up 96 last season. So splitting the line up made sense, even to them.

"Sometimes it's good to shake it up a little bit," Palat said. "As long as we're winning, I don't care."

JOHNNY BE GOOD: Johnson, who finally scored his first goal Sunday, hopes it'll open the floodgates like last season, when he scored once in the first 12 games before racking up four in the next three (and 29 overall). "When you get a goal, you get that confidence and it goes into the net, you feel that relief," he said. "You feel some pressure getting off, kind of relax a little bit and once you relax, it's when you play your best hockey."

MEDICAL MATTERS: Both LW Jonathan Drouin (lower body) and C Cedric Paquette (left ankle) participated in Tuesday's skate, but didn't play against Detroit and are questionable for Thursday's game in Buffalo, Cooper said. Paquette, who missed his fifth straight game, seems frustrated, and doesn't seem optimistic about returning soon. The biggest issue is the discomfort of wearing his skate with the cut on his ankle, the result of a blocked shot Sept. 25. "I tried at least 100 (kinds) of padding," he said. "Can't move my foot in there." Drouin, hurt Oct. 27 in St. Louis, feels better but won't rush back. "I don't want to go 85 percent, 90 percent, I want to make sure it's 100 percent healed," Drouin said. "I don't want to be in three weeks having that problem again."

TRASH TALK: Cooper and good buddy Jeff Blashill, the Red Wings coach, traded playful barbs in pregame press briefings. Blashill, asked about D Victor Hedman, quipped, "If he was better coached, he'd probably be a better player." When told of Blashill's remarks, Cooper smiled. "I don't have to answer to people below me."

NUTS AND BOLTS: D Nikita Nesterov was scratched. G Ben Bishop started. … Prospect C Brayden Point (Moose Jaw) was named WHL player of the month.

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

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