TAMPA — Vladislav Namestnikov was in a familiar spot. The puck found him on the blue line, and open ice was in front of him. The Lightning forward raced and backhanded the puck past Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins in the second period Tuesday night.
It was a familiar scene but not frequent this season.
“Goals haven’t come easy this year,” Namestnikov said. “But you’ve got to take the opportunity, and I got one there.”
That goal could be lost in the Lightning’s 6-3 win, with Nikita Kucherov knocking in two goals and finishing with four points, and Brayden Point continuing his hot streak with a goal.
But it was an encouraging sign as the Lightning move toward the second half of the season. As they begin to set their sights on the playoffs, they need to find the scoring depth that has been a trademark of their two Stanley Cup titles in the last three seasons.
“You want everybody to score. It makes them feel better about themselves and feel like they’re contributing,” coach Jon Cooper said. “Oftentimes when players aren’t on the score sheet for a few games, they think that they’re not contributing when they actually are. And so I thought Vladdy’s goal was huge. We had that 2-0 lead, (the Blue Jackets) scored, and that was a big goal at a good time for us (to make it 3-1).”
For Namestnikov and the fourth line, any time to be productive is a good time.
He returned to the Lightning this season on a one-year free-agent deal with the idea his speed could help contribute to the offense. Through the first 39 games, Namestnikov, 30, has three goals and six assists in 37 games played.
With Corey Perry and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, the fourth line is still trying to find ways to contribute.
“If you can get contributions from everybody up and down the lineup, it doesn’t matter where you are. It’s big for the team, and I know personally for (Namestnikov) it’s a big goal to get going again,” Perry said.
“It’s something we as a line have talked about; just contributing, setting the next line up, whatever it is. And (Tuesday) night was a start, and there’s more to get out there.”
It’s taking awhile for Namestnikov to find his comfort zone. Drafted by the Lightning in the first round in 2011, he was brought back thinking his speed would help him with top-line guys such as Kucherov. He has played with several linemates, but the line of Namestnikov, Perry and Bellemare is starting to find its way onto the score sheet. Perry emphasized they are controlling the puck better, which is giving them better opportunities.
Namestnikov saw enough to build off Tuesday to be encouraged.
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“I thought for two periods we were good. We weren’t really turning the puck over, but the third we made a couple mistakes that ended up in our net,” Namestnikov said. “But other than that, I thought it was a pretty clean game, so we have to continue working and cleaning up the rest of those mistakes we’re making.”
Contact Kristie Ackert at email@example.com.
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