Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat was hurt when Minnesota’s Nino Niederreiter fell on his leg in the Bolts’ 1-0 loss to the Wild on November 7.
Two days later, Palat wore a brace around his left ankle as the Lightning announced he would miss three to five weeks with a lower-body injury.
This Saturday will mark five weeks since Palat went down.
Apparently, his return timetable was spot on.
Palat practiced Wednesday with the Lightning for the second time – the first came in Anaheim a day before the Bolts defeated the Ducks (Dec. 1) – since the injury and said he feels pretty close to 100 percent.
“I feel good,” he said. “I feel good today.”
There’s a reasonable chance Palat will be in the Lightning lineup on Thursday when they host the Ottawa Senators at Amalie Arena.
“It’s a possibility,” Palat said. “I don’t want to say it’s 100 percent, but I will see how I feel (Thursday) morning.”
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said Palat’s return should provide a spark for a Bolts’ offense that ranks 25th in the NHL at 2.32 goals per game, a year after pacing the league in scoring at over three goals (3.16) each time out.
Palat has sat out 12-straight games.
“Anytime you miss a few guys, it hurts special teams. It hurts five-on-five,” Stamkos said. “When you’re struggling to score goals, anytime you can get some offensive guys back in the lineup, with the way things have been going, obviously we’ll take it.”
With Palat back practicing and Tyler Johnson making his return to the lineup in the Bolts’ last game at Los Angeles, the Lightning had all three members of Triplets on the ice together at Wednesday’s practice for the first time since Palat’s injury November 7.
During line rushes, the trio took up their familiar spots on the same line, Palat on the left, Nikita Kucherov on the right and Johnson centering.
Palat said it was difficult sitting out and watching his linemates play while forced to sit.
“Skating every day by myself, it’s not fun,” Palat said. “When you’re with the guys on the ice, it’s so much fun to just do everything with them, drills and stuff. It’s fun.”
The Triplets have been stymied in their attempt to replicate the success from last season’s Stanley Cup run partly because of injuries and partly from opposing defenses keying on them more.
“I think we just weren’t playing the way we wanted to play,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot to do with that, but I think now, at this point of the season, I think everyone feels a lot better. I know I feel better now than I did at the beginning of the season. We can use that to our advantage and hopefully just take off from there.”
OTHER INJURY UPDATES
The news on Lightning forward Cedric Paquette is less encouraging than Palat’s.
Paquette was expected to make his return to the lineup from an upper-body injury at some point on the Lightning’s recently-completed West Coast-road swing but hadn’t fully recovered.
On Wednesday, Cooper said Paquette will still be out another week or two.
Paquette has missed the last nine games and 14 of the last 19.
“It’s just been a slower process,” Cooper said. “We’re definitely erring on the side of caution because we just, we can’t put these guys in a position where they come back for one or two games and then they’re gone for another month. Better to let them rest now and hopefully in a week or so we look back and say, ‘OK, he’s ready to go.’”
As for Erik Condra, who sat out the game against the Kings with a lower-body injury, he too will miss at least a week and possibly more.
“Erik’s probably in the same boat as Paquette,” Cooper said. “I don’t want to put a time frame on him, but he would be for sure a week.”