TAMPA — Lightning C Tyler Johnson's frustrating, injury-plagued season continues.
Johnson was scratched from Saturday's game against the Capitals and will likely miss an upcoming three-game road trip after re-aggravating an undisclosed injury Thursday against Ottawa, coach Jon Cooper said. Cooper insisted this "isn't a multiple-week thing," but they want to err on the side of caution with the All-Star, who has missed seven of the past 11 games with two injuries.
"We just can't have this back for one, gone for three, back for one, gone for four," Cooper said. "We've got to make sure these guys are ready to go."
Johnson missed three games with an unrelated upper-body injury Nov. 16-21, returned Nov. 25 then had what's believed to be a mid-body injury in the first shift Nov. 27 against the Capitals. Johnson came back quicker than expected Dec. 6 in Los Angeles after missing three games. But Cooper insisted Johnson, who has just four goals in 23 games, didn't come back too soon.
"He was ready," Cooper said. "He's having a tough run in the injury department right now, something he's never had to deal with. This happens to players, it's unfortunate it's happening now, because clearly he's a big piece of our team."
Close call: Another big piece, LW Ondrej Palat, left Saturday's game injured. Palat, in just his second game back after being out since Nov. 7 with a left ankle injury, might have re-aggravated it midway through the first period. Palat hobbled off eight minutes in, heading to the dressing return. He returned for two more shifts in the first, but that was it; he logged just 3 minutes, 34 seconds overall. He's considered day to day.
Next up: RW Mike Blunden was recalled from AHL Syracuse and played Saturday. Blunden was needed, as LW Jonathan Drouin (lower body) was a late scratch, Cooper saying he re-aggravated something. Drouin was in warmups, the team saying his status is to be determined. Blunden, a 6-foot-4, 217-pound forward, played two games with Tampa Bay in a November callup. "He plays a big man's game," Cooper said. Blunden showed that in the first period when he got into a fight with Washington RW Tom Wilson (6-4, 214).
Stepping up: RW J.T. Brown was coming off a season-high seven shots Thursday against Ottawa, when he had his third multi-point game of the season. Cooper said points are a bonus with Brown, a team-high plus-10, believing he has been the team's most consistent player the past couple weeks. "His confidence is way up," Cooper said. "He's actually brought his playoff games to the regular season this year. He's just all over the ice, he's playing all 200 feet, using his speed, the kid has a lot of grit. And the more ice time I'm giving him, he's taking advantage." Brown fought D Nate Schmidt in the second period, "trying to get something going" for the team.
Just like Caps: As the Lightning prepared for the Capitals' potent power play — tied for second in the NHL at 23.9 percent coming in — it also has used them as a guideline in its own unit, assistant coach Steve Thomas said. Thomas points to Washington's poise with the puck and shot-first mentality. "Every team in the league tries to use them as a model for the power play," Thomas said.