Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin has missed the last eight games with a lower-body injury, but his time out of the Bolts lineup could be coming to an end.
On Tuesday, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said Drouin had come off of injured reserve and was ready to get back to action. Today, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper confirmed Drouin will make his first appearance since December 10 tonight when the Lightning battle the New York Rangers at Amalie Arena, provided he still feels fine after participating in the Bolts’ morning skate.
“We expect Jo to be in tonight,” Cooper said.
Drouin has been injured three separate times this season and has played just eight of the last 27 games. He has two goals and six assists in the 18 games he’s made an appearance, most of which came in October.
Cooper said it may take a few games for the 20 year old to round back into form after missing so many games of late.
“We kind of have to ease these guys in to getting the pace of the game, getting some of the rust off because it doesn’t matter how often you practice, it’s not a game,” Cooper said. “And so, we’ll get a feel for how these guys are playing and kind of inch them along.”
That leaves Ondrej Palat as the lone Lightning regular still saddled with an injury. Palat (lower-body) has missed the last seven games but could return soon. He participated in today’s morning skate and remained on the ice to skate on his own after most of his teammates had returned to the locker room. Following the morning session, Palat said he’s feeling better and getting close to being ready to play in a game.
Like Drouin, Palat has played in 18 of the Lightning’s 37 games so far this season.
GOING BACK TO CALLY
Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan ended a 22-game scoring slump with his third-period goal Monday versus Montreal that gave the Bolts a brief lead.
But despite his limited offensive production, Cooper said Callahan provides so much more to the Lightning that more than offsets his lack of goals.
“It’s hard not to say he’s one of the heart-and-soul guys on our team,” Cooper said. “You see the reception he gets from the fans, everybody appreciates the way he plays, but he’s also somebody that’s used to getting 20 goals a year. When those guys go through a few games without scoring, it’s frustrating.”
Sometimes that frustration can creep into other aspects of a player’s game, so Cooper said it’s important to remind a player like Callahan how valuable they are to the team so they don’t let a scoring slump weigh on them.
“They’re hockey players,” Cooper said. “Everybody wants to score. And you could tell it was a little bit of a relief when he finally did score, so hopefully there are a few more goals to follow.”
SECONDARY SCORING SOURCES
Tampa Bay has recorded 22 goals over its last six games, its best scoring output of the season to date (3.67 goals a game).
Part of the reason for their scoring surge: increased production from the defensemen.
Lightning blueliners have tallied six of the 22 goals in the last six games, this after scoring just seven goals total in the 31 games prior.
“We’ve been big the last couple years having our D in our attack and being able to contribute,” Cooper said. “I think it’s not a coincidence when they’re scoring, we’re winning a few of these games.”
Nikita Nesterov has scored two goals in the last four games. Jason Garrison has netted a goal in consecutive games. Garrison scored a pair of goals on Opening Night and then went 34 games without tallying before putting up goals Dec. 26 vs. Columbus and Dec. 28 vs. Montreal.
“I think we put pressure on ourselves to produce offense,” Bolts defenseman Victor Hedman said. “At the beginning of the year, we didn’t score too many goals. As of late we’ve been chipping in, and it’s showing on the scoreboard. That’s what you want from your D, you want to chip in offensively and at the same time play good D. It’s been fun to watch. Gary’s scored two games in a row, Nesty scoring a couple goals lately, it’s a lot of fun to see.”
Hedman said it’s not just scoring but putting more shots on net that’s allowed the defensemen to contribute more offensively and, in turn, the Lightning to score more goals as a whole.
“You don’t have to score on every shot, but as long as you create offense and get shots through, you’re going to create scrambles in front of the net,” he said. “You might not shoot to score every time, but for us it’s about getting pucks through and creating some chaos in the offensive end. I think we’ve been doing a better job of that of late.”
ODDS AND ENDS
Ben Bishop was the first goaltender off the ice for the Lightning’s morning skate and will likely make his 30th start of the season tonight when the Bolts battle the Rangers. Bishop is a perfect 9-0-0 with a 1.43 GAA and .947 save percentage in nine regular-season meetings all-time vs. New York…Tampa Bay has scored a power-play goal in four-straight games and has seven power-play goals over that stretch…At Amalie Arena, the Lightning power play ranks six in the NHL, converting 23.9 percent of its opportunities…The Bolts are 5-4-0 against teams from the Metropolitan Division. Three of those losses have come, however, to one team: the Washington Capitals.