TAMPA — Steven Stamkos and Ross Colton have been linemates for just seven games, but lately it seems like they’ve been playing together for years.
As the Lightning search for their strongest line combinations going into the postseason, the 32-year-old captain and 25-year-old second-year forward have become a dangerous scoring pair.
The chemistry the two have developed while playing alongside Ondrej Palat was a bright spot in Tuesday’s disappointing 4-3 loss to the Red Wings, with Stamkos feeding Colton for two goals.
“It’s been only a couple of games, but I think we’re playing well,” said Palat, who found his way onto the line three games ago. “We’re working hard. (Stamkos is) a good shooter, and Ross, too.
“We play a simple game. If there’s a chance to make a play, we will. But often we were trying to get on the forecheck and win some battles.”
The grouping seems to have most benefited Colton, who has five goals in his past seven games.
“I love it,” Colton said. “I think (Stamkos and Palat) kind of make the game pretty simple for me out there. They’re both veteran leaders who have been in my ear since day one, kind of saying, ‘Just play your game and try not to do too much.’
“And that kind of goes a long way … hearing that from both of them, obviously. So I think we’ve kind of got some good chemistry going right now.”
Colton has been one of the Lightning’s most versatile forwards, and because of that, he has been able to play across all lines.
Early in the second period of a 0-0 game Tuesday, Palat tipped a Ryan McDonagh pass into the neutral zone to Stamkos, who parted two Detroit defenders as he skated through the slot, drawing goaltender Thomas Greiss out of the net.
Stamkos tapped a pass to Colton approaching from the left circle, and Colton fired a wrist shot past diving defenseman Filip Hronek and Greiss as the goalie tried to get back into position.
“(Colton has) got a great shot, and he’s just got an instinct of where to be,” Stamkos said. “So when I’m put in different situations with different linemates, I just try to play to that line’s strength. If I’m in the middle of the ice playing with (Palat) and Ross, I want to be trying to get the puck and make some plays.
“(Palat) is a guy that’s going to go and get the puck and make some plays. Ross, he’s got a great shot. He’s got a good nose for the net, and we’ve had some success.”
Stamkos and Colton later connected on a goal that tied the score at 3 in the opening minute of the third period.
The assist, Stamkos’ third of the night, tied him with Marty St. Louis for most career points in Lightning history with 953.
“They’re probably both pure goal-scorers,” assistant coach Jeff Halpern said of Stamkos and Colton. “And I think (Stamkos’) ability to make some of those little passes and some of those little plays benefits Ross as well. It’s funny to say, because everyone loves to score goals, but the true goal-scorers, they love it. They love it in practice, and anything they can do to score, it kind of drives them.
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“So for (Colton) to be on that line, it’s more ice time, so it’s an opportunity, and it really just gives him a chance to get open for (Palat and Stamkos) in those spots. One goal was (into) an empty net (after Stamkos pulled Greiss out of position), but (Colton) doesn’t need much room to get that shot off.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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