TAMPA — If there was one takeaway for Tyler Johnson from Wednesday’s 6-2 win against the Stars, it was that the good bounces don’t always go your way, but the fluky ones sometimes do.
Over the past few weeks, the Lightning forward has had plenty of chances to break his 21-game goal drought, but the one that came to him Wednesday was the one he needed, as he opened the scoring in the first period.
“It’s nice when they start to go in,” said Johnson, who logged a goal and an assist against Dallas. “There’s times where you can pick the perfect shot and it just doesn’t go in and then the other times like that where it wasn’t quite exactly where I wanted to shoot, but it still goes in, so it’s one of those things that, it’s hockey, it’s something that you live through and go through and just have to keep on working hard.”
About two minutes into the game, a backchecking Johnson and forward Alex Killorn squeezed Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen as he tried to enter the Lightning zone off the rush.
After Johnson forced a turnover with his stick, Killorn grabbed the puck in the neutral zone and the two quickly changed direction, racing toward the Dallas goal.
Killorn skated to a spot above the left circle and tried to make a pass to Anthony Cirelli. But the puck deflected off the left skate of Dallas defenseman Jamie Oleksiak and into the slot. Johnson immediately pounced on it and buried a shot past goaltender Jake Oettinger.
“You try to put yourself in the best spot possible, but who’s to say what the right spot is?” Johnson said. “It really is a balance. Killorn tried to get that to Cirelli, it just bounces and kind of goes through the right area right where I’m at.
“There’s other times where the same play happens in the same exact spot, but it bounces somewhere else, so that’s what hockey is sometimes. You get the bounces, sometimes you don’t, and that’s it.”
Johnson’s goal was his eighth of the season, second-fewest of his career (he has five more goals than he scored during his 2012-13 rookie season) and little more than half of what he scored last year (14).
Skating mostly on the second line with Killorn and Cirelli, Johnson has posted only 72 shots on goal (41 fewer than he did in 2019-20). His 21 straight games without a goal was the longest drought of his NHL career (previous longest was 17 games in 2017-18).
Johnson’s lack of offense has been frustrating for all involved. In mid-April, coach Jon Cooper met with the 30-year-old center to help figure out his slump. The two have been together for more than a decade, winning two championships in that time (2012 Calder Cup with AHL Norfolk and 2020 Stanley Cup with the Lightning).
“We’ve been together a long time, and I trust him as a player,” Cooper said at the time. “He’s had many, many, many more ups than downs. And when you go through this, you just have to stand with your player and try and have him work his way out of it.”
Johnson’s teammates would be the first to say they know what scoring slumps feel like and the relief that comes with finally getting rewarded.
“I think it’s always good for guys’ confidence to get some goals,” Killorn said. “That first goal was our first shift, and for him, he’s such a great shooter when he gets into the slot, so hopefully he can take that confidence going forward.”
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