Ondrej Palat skating, likely mid-March return

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | TimesTampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat (18) charges through the neutral zone past Minnesota Wild defenseman Mike Reilly (4) during the first period of Saturday’s (12/23/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Minnesota Wild at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
Published February 24, 2018
Updated February 24, 2018

MONTREAL — It is an encouraging sign for the Lightning that wing Ondrej Palat (right) is back on the ice, even if he is doing just light skating.

Palat is arguably the team's best two-way forward, someone who plays in all situations, so Tampa Bay has missed him big time.

But Palat's return isn't imminent. Coach Jon Cooper suggested Saturday that Palat likely will not be back until mid March.

RELATED: Lightning tops Canadiens in shootout.

Palat was expected to be sidelined six to eight weeks when he got hurt Jan. 20, taking a slash on the back of his lower leg. He is believed to have a high ankle sprain.

"Those are tough injuries," Cooper said. "We're hopeful we can keep winning, which should delay him coming back. I know he wants to come back. But he has to make sure he's fully healthy. If you don't heal that injury, it's so easy to come back and then lose him longer."


Backup G Peter Budaj (lower body) is dealing with a similar injury. He practiced with AHL Syracuse last week while the Lightning was on the road. GM Steve Yzerman said the team hadn't determined whether Budaj would get a conditioning stint with the Crunch to play games before he's able to return.

Trade talk

While the rest of the hockey world — and especially Lightning fans — are buzzing over the potential of the Lightning landing Senators star defenseman Erik Karlsson by Monday's trade deadline, Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said he hadn't heard much trade chatter from players, like he has in previous seasons.

RELATED: What the Lightning would be getting in Erik Karlsson.

It was a lot different last season, when the Lightning was a seller and traded popular teammates Brian Boyle, Ben Bishop and Valtteri Filppula by the deadline. That GM Steve Yzerman said Thursday he doesn't plan to deal from his current roster likely alleviated any distractions or uncertainty in the dressing room.


"To be honest, of all the years, this is probably the least amount I've ever heard anybody talking about the deadline," Cooper said. "To me, that's a good thing. Guys are confident in the way they're playing and it's not a distraction to them."

On the way back

D Mikhail Sergachev believes he's working his way out of some of his midseason struggles.

While Sergachev, 19, hasn't scored since mid December, he's seeing progress in other areas of his game.

"The last 10 games, I've been getting better in little areas — 3-on-3 against or d-zone coverage," Sergachev said. "My battles in the corner. That's all I've got to do, and the offense will come."

Slap shots

• G Andrei Vasilevskiy started against the Canadiens. Few of us will forget the last time he was in Montreal, his 38-save performance Jan. 4 no doubt one of the most brilliant games of his career.


• Red Wings D Mike Green remained sidelined with a neck injury suffered two weeks ago against the Lightning. You wonder how that impacts Green's cost at the trade deadline, with Tampa Bay likely one of the suitors.

• Lightning coach Jon Cooper said the coolest part of watching Canada's bronze-medal Olympic hockey win Saturday was seeing his good friend Steve Thomas' son, Christian, receive his medal.

Joe Smith can be reached at Follow @TBTImes_JSmith.

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