Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Triplets line off to slow start for Lightning

NASHVILLE — One day after posing together in ugly sweaters for the Hockey News cover photo shoot, the Lightning's touted Triplets line was broken up.

Well, to be fair, every Tampa Bay line was shuffled after an admittedly terrible first period of a 2-1 win over the Sabres. And, don't worry, the changes were only temporary.

But the Lightning's Triplets trio of Tyler Johnson, 25, Ondrej Palat, 24, and Nikita Kucherov, 22 — which formed the league's most dynamic, dangerous and dominant line last season — is slumping. Despite a healthy amount of scoring chances, they have zero even-strength goals together through the season's first six games heading into tonight's showdown with the Predators.

Maybe they're just a victim to the spectacular standard they set.

"They've been in the league one year and their line has a name," coach Jon Cooper quipped.

However, randomly thrust together due to injuries in Winnipeg one year ago Saturday, the Triplets are not only gaining fame in the hockey world (hence the upcoming Hockey News cover story), but attention from opposing teams, who are throwing their top defensive pairings and lines at them.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit frustrated," Johnson said. "But at the same time, am I trying to kill myself at night? No."

Said Palat: "It's not that we thought it was going to be easy, like we're going to score every single game, and we're never going to have a slump or something."

They're getting chances, including 16 combined in Thursday's 5-3 loss to Dallas, to no avail.

"I was (ticked)," Palat said. But nothing is coming easy, opposing teams targeting them in gameplans.

"I would think other teams would be in a bad spot if they didn't," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "Even last year, as the year went on, there was no surprises about the speed and the skill and how they play, that line. They're going to get due attention from every team that plays against them, and they have to. They earned it."

Said Johnson: "Do I think other teams are maybe playing a little bit harder and marking us on their calendars? Absolutely. I would if I was in their shoes."

The three ranked in the NHL's top four in plus-minus last season. Johnson, a first-time All-Star with 29 goals, has four assists this season. Kucherov, who also had 29 goals, has one this season, which came just as a power play expired Oct. 10 in Buffalo. Palat has one goal (power play) and assist and is at minus-1. Johnson leads the Lightning in shots (16), with Palat (12) and Kucherov (11) not far behind.

"I've been hitting posts, Kuch has been hitting posts," Johnson said.

Johnson, who had just one goal in his first 12 games last season, isn't worried about the goals, or points. He's more concerned how they need to be better in other areas, putting themselves in the right spots, on both ends. The trio will watch film together, breaking down their shifts.

"Right now, I can't say we've been giving it our 'A' game," Johnson said.

Johnson, Palat and Kucherov didn't play together a lot in the preseason, which included injuries to Kucherov and Johnson. As magical as their chemistry has been — Cooper comparing them to triplets thinking on the same wavelength, like his twin daughters — it is not as automatic.

"If you look at the way we play, a lot of the stuff we do is timing," Johnson said. "Kind of beating guys one-on-one and passing and that's something you lose during the summer."

Opposing teams are doing everything to disrupt the Triplets' rhythm, from structurally taking away their time and space in the neutral zone to trying to physically frustrate them.

"The only way you slow speed is you hit them," Sabres wing Evander Kane said.

Still, more often than not, Cooper said the Triplets are "carrying the mail" for the Lightning. And they're going to need to on this road trip against four playoff teams, including Saturday's rematch with the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.

"We just need to stick with it," Palat said. "We just need one goal and it's going to break and we're going to get it going again."

Contact Joe Smith at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

Triplets line off to slow start for Lightning 10/19/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 9, 2015 5:47pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman also has top-9 wing on his wish list

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — Much has been made about the Lightning's interest in bolstering its blue line, even after last week's acquisition of defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev.

    Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman gestures as he speaks to the media about recent trades during a news conference before an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. The Lightning, over the past few days, have traded goaltender Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings, forward Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and forward Valtteri Filppula to the Philadelphia Flyers. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA101
  2. Peter Budaj loves 'vibe' with Lightning

    Blogs

    Two years ago, nobody was willing to give Peter Budaj a shot, the veteran goalie wondering if he'd ever play in the NHL again.

    Peter Budaj signed a two-year extension with the Lightning, worth $1.025 million per year.
  3. A test the Rays haven't passed

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — I have no idea what to think about the Rays. Not a clue.

    Tampa Bay Rays players celebrate their 8-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday, June 21, 2017 in St. Petersburg.
  4. Tampa Bay Lightning 2017-18 schedule: Stanley Cup champion Penguins, expansion Golden Knights among the coming attractions

    Lightning Strikes

    The Lightning's season schedule was released Thursday afternoon, and there are plenty of must-see matchups coming to Amalie Arena. Here are the home games with the most intriguing storylines:

    The champs (Oct. 12, Oct. 21)

    The two-time defending champion Penguins make two early trips to Tampa. [AP photo]