Saturday, December 16, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Palat helps spark Lightning's turnaround

TAMPA — There are many reasons for the Lightning's recent resurgence, which includes a season-high five straight wins heading into tonight's game at Amalie Arena against the Oilers.

There have been more consistent effort and stronger starts, with Tampa Bay putting 60-minute games together.

The goaltending continues to be stellar with Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Defensemen have been extremely active and productive, giving a boost in scoring.

But the key factor has been health. The Lightning (24-17-4) has its full lineup together for the first time in two months. And no addition has been bigger than wing Ondrej Palat, often considered the straw that stirs the Lightning's drink.

It's no coincidence Tampa Bay is 6-1 since Palat returned from a left ankle injury Jan. 2. The Lightning is 14-7-4 with Palat, 10-10 without.

"There's no secret he's a huge part of our team," coach Jon Cooper said. "He's a complete player who plays the whole 200 feet. He can play anywhere in the lineup. He's one of those guys you don't read about in the newspapers every single night, but he's probably the reason the guys are in the newspapers — that unsung hero type.

"As a coach, you wish you could have more Palats. But when you do get them, you're glad you have them. And when they're out of the lineup, you don't realize how much you miss them. That's what he is to us."

Palat has missed 20 games this season, 12 after first hurting his left ankle Nov. 7 in Minnesota and eight more after re-aggravating the injury in his second game back. The Lightning had a hard time replacing Palat, and his absence was compounded by the fact that former Triplets linemate Tyler Johnson missed 13 games with two injuries.

"(Palat) is a guy that's essential to any winning formula you have on a team," captain Steven Stamkos said. "So we missed him for sure. Whatever line he's on, he's bringing that, game in and game out."

Defenseman Victor Hedman said: "He's one of the best two-way players in the league."

After months of constantly shuffling lines, some consistency and balance has returned up front with Palat and Johnson. Palat, the engine of the Triplets line last season, has helped spark the top line with Stamkos and Vladisdlav Namestnikov, who is the team's most improved player. Palat has three goals and eight assists in 25 games.

"It's pretty hard to look past (Palat) and say he's not the guy that starts the engine on that line," Cooper said.

Johnson's return made Tampa Bay stronger up the middle, centering a line with Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov, whose 18 goals are second to only Stamkos' 20.

"If you're going to count five to 10 guys in this league you want the puck on their stick right around the net, I'd be hard pressed not to put those two guys on that list," Cooper said of Stamkos and Kucherov. "It gives you a little bit of a one-two punch when you can roll two lines out there that have one of them on each."

Johnson also appears to be finding his game, with a season-high seven shots in Sunday's 3-1 win over Florida. He said the consistency and familiarity with the lines have created confidence and let them play their game.

"It's kind of a fresh start in a way because I really haven't been part of the season," Johnson said. "Now I'm trying to put things together. There's still areas I want to get better at in the game. But I'm feeling better now than I have anytime."

Johnson credits Palat, often an alternate captain, for raising their level of play.

"He gets you motivated; he gets you excited by the way he plays," Johnson said. "He's not necessarily the most vocal guy, but he doesn't have to be. Just the way he plays. You watch his effort level. I think that says more than anything."

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

Comments
Q&A with Syracuse coach Benoit Groulx about the Lightning’s next generation

Q&A with Syracuse coach Benoit Groulx about the Lightning’s next generation

DENVER — There might be one team in hockey hotter than the Lightning.It is Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate, Syracuse.The Crunch had won nine straight heading into Friday’s game against Providence. Why is this important? While the AHL is a developmental lea...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Ryan Callahan out at least 3-4 weeks for Lightning

Ryan Callahan out at least 3-4 weeks for Lightning

When Lightning wing Ryan Callahan took a nasty spill into the boards Thursday night, it didn't look good.Turns out, it wasn't. Callahan will be sidelined indefinitely with an upper body injury, evaluated after three to four weeks, per GM Steve Yzerma...
Published: 12/15/17
When you think you’ve got Brayden Point figured out, a surprise awaits

When you think you’ve got Brayden Point figured out, a surprise awaits

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Center Brayden Point is the Lightning’s calmest player, both on the ice and off, according to Victor Hedman.Point’s soft-spoken nature belies his baby face and 5-foot-10 frame. "I’ve never seen him angry before," Hedman said.That ma...
Published: 12/15/17
Ryan Callahan injury makes Lightning win ‘bittersweet’

Ryan Callahan injury makes Lightning win ‘bittersweet’

The Lightning's 4-1 victory over the Coyotes Thursday night still featured the usual post-game music in the dressing room.But there was more of a somber tone with veteran right wing Ryan Callahan's right arm in a sling. Callahan, who got hurt on a na...
Published: 12/15/17
Lightning routs Coyotes for sixth straight win

Lightning routs Coyotes for sixth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. — As much as the Lightning has been rolling, it remembered how it lost twice last season to the Coyotes.That included blowing a one-goal third-period lead at home down the stretch, with Tampa Bay missing the playoffs by a point."You l...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Lightning’s Mikhail Sergachev earns more minutes, praise

Lightning’s Mikhail Sergachev earns more minutes, praise

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Coyotes center Clayton Keller is very familiar with fellow rookie Mikhail Sergachev, the dynamic Lightning defenseman. They both were top 10 picks in 2016, Keller at No. 7 and Sergachev No. 9 to Montreal. They faced each other in th...
Published: 12/14/17
Mikhail Sergachev earning trust – and more minutes with Lightning

Mikhail Sergachev earning trust – and more minutes with Lightning

Coyotes center Clayton Keller is very familiar with fellow rookie Mikhail Sergachev, the Lightning defenseman.They both were picked in the top-10 of the 2016 NHL Draft, Keller at No. 7 and Sergachev No. 9 to Montreal. They faced each other in three w...
Published: 12/14/17
Disney-Fox deal gives ESPN control of local cable rights to Rays, Lightning games

Disney-Fox deal gives ESPN control of local cable rights to Rays, Lightning games

As part of its deal to buy a massive package of 21st Century Fox assets, Disney will acquire Fox Sports Regional Networks, which control the local cable rights to a slew of professional teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Lightning.Assu...
Published: 12/14/17
Andrei Vasilevskiy’s dreams are coming true

Andrei Vasilevskiy’s dreams are coming true

GLENDALE, Ariz — Nikita Kucherov’s toughest challenge isn’t facing Canadiens goalie Carey Price, or Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky.It comes in practice against Andrei Vasilevskiy. "I’ve been saying, I thought he was going to be the top goalie in the leag...
Published: 12/13/17
Switch to wing helps Lightning’s Tyler Johnson

Switch to wing helps Lightning’s Tyler Johnson

ST. LOUIS — Tyler Johnson hasn’t played very much wing in his career, primarily sticking to his natural center position. But lately, Johnson has been stellar on the right side.Johnson’s assist in Tuesday’s win over the Blues extended his point streak...
Published: 12/13/17