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Lightning needs more scorers to step up

Rookie left wing Adam Erne, front, is the only Lightning player besides Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson who has scored in the past four games.
Rookie left wing Adam Erne, front, is the only Lightning player besides Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson who has scored in the past four games.
Published Mar. 9, 2017

TAMPA — Nikita Kucherov is in his best scoring stretch of the season.

Tyler Johnson has scored two goals in his past four games and won a franchise-record 22 faceoffs Monday against the Rangers.

But think they could get a little help?

The Lightning enters tonight's game against the Wild desperate for points in its playoff push. It is four points out of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with 17 games to go. Tampa Bay is also desperate for goals, having racked up just one in regulation in the past two games. Goals won't come easily against the Wild, which has allowed just four goals in its past three games and has one of the league's best goalies in Devan Dubnyk.

Minnesota's scouting report for the Lightning should be easy. Only one Tampa Bay forward other than Kucherov and Johnson has scored in the past four games, rookie Adam Erne on Friday against the Penguins.

"You just can't do it by one line alone," coach Jon Cooper said.

The Lightning has done all right thanks to stellar goaltending by new No. 1 Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has allowed just one goal in three of his past four starts. But last time I checked, Vasilevskiy isn't a scorer.

That means other lines have to pick up the slack. The low production hasn't been for lack of effort, or lack of scoring chances. Tampa Bay notched 38 shots in Monday's 1-0 overtime loss to the Rangers.

But the production isn't there. The second line — Alex Killorn, Jonathan Drouin and Brayden Point — has zero goals in the past four games. Cedric Paquette is in a 17-game goal drought. J.T. Brown has two goals in 53 games and was a healthy scratch Monday for rookie Yanni Gourde.

"You look at all the good teams in the league, all four lines can produce," center Vladislav Namestnikov said. "You just have to keep working and hope they'll start coming in."

Who needs to step up? Any defenseman but Victor Hedman

Victor Hedman is having a career season offensively, already tying a career high with 43 assists. His next goal will match his career high (13). He assisted on the Lightning's only regulation goal Saturday in Buffalo. And he scored two goals in Tampa Bay's admittedly lucky 4-3 win over Carolina on March 1. But the Lightning could use another defenseman to contribute. Anton Stralman has two goals this season, Jason Garrison and Andrej Sustr one each. Braydon Coburn has three. Even just one blast from the point could be big.

Second line

Alex Killorn is fourth on the Lightning in goals with 16 but has zero in his past 11 games. He has just three shots in his past four. Killorn's line has had many great looks; Jonathan Drouin seemingly creates several chances a game. But the line's last goal came five games ago, from rookie Brayden Point. Even Drouin, one of the team's most dynamic players, has zero goals in his past six games; three of his four points over that stretch came on Nikita Kucherov's three power-play goals against Ottawa.

The kids

Rookie Adam Erne and recently recalled Yanni Gourde were buzzing Monday against the Rangers, with Erne amassing six shots on goal. They added a lot of speed to a line with Vladislav Namestnikov. Erne, along with fellow rookies Brayden Point and Jake Dotchin, are getting power-play time on the same unit. Erne got his first NHL goal Friday in Pittsburgh, but that line has come up empty since. "Now we've got to get them to contribute on offense," coach Jon Cooper said. "The guys have got to start chipping in more. Can't be just one line."

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