Ondrej Palat’s reaction to having the full weight of Minnesota’s Nino Niederreiter come down on his left leg in an awkward spill during Saturday’s loss to the Wild was of great concern to Lightning fans, Palat grimacing as he struggled to put weight on the leg during his skate back to the bench and into the locker room.
On Monday, we learned why.
Palat will miss the next to three to five weeks of the season with a lower-body injury according to the team, creating a significant hole in a Lightning lineup still searching for offensive consistency.
“He’s an extremely valuable player to our team, plays in a lot of situations,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said following today’s practice. “…Our depth will be tested now because he’s a big part of our team.”
In recent games, Palat had been shifted off the Triplets line that had so much success a season ago and moved up to the top line with Steven Stamkos and Valtteri Filppula.
Now, the Lightning will have to continue exploring their line options while Palat heals.
“It’s an opportunity for other people now to play important minutes because Palat plays all the hard minutes and all the important minutes,” Cooper said. “He’s a leader in our locker room. He may not be the guy that’s vocal all the time, but just his work ethic and the way he plays the game, he’s as honest a player you’re going to find in this league.”
Palat said he know the injury could be significant after it happened Saturday.
“When he fell on it, it didn’t feel right,” Palat said. “I was in big pain.”
Palat is currently tied for fifth on the Lightning for scoring with seven points through 16 games. He ranks tied for second on the team for hits (22), third among Lightning forwards for average TOI (18:12) and fifth for power-play TOI (46:30).
Cooper said the Lightning could recall a player from Syracuse soon to fill Palat’s void. One player won’t completely replace Palat, however, because of everything he brings to the game.
“I think we’re a strong enough group that we can handle it,” Lightning center Brian Boyle said. “We know how much better we can be, and we know the margin for error is really small. I think today’s a good example of that. Everybody wants to figure out a way to right the ship a little bit here.”