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Pre-game Notebook: Ondrej Palat probable to return to lineup tonight

by Staff Writer / Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning will have all three members of the Triplets available for the first time since December 10 with the “probable” return of Ondrej Palat tonight when the Lightning host the Minnesota Wild at Amalie Arena, the final game in their six-game homestand.

Palat has missed the last eight games with a lower-body injury but has been practicing regularly with the team the past few days and is likely in the lineup according to Cooper.

“We’ll see tonight,” he said, adding that the team will make sure Palat is still good to go following today’s morning skate.

Palat slotted in on the left wing during morning skate line rushes alongside his Triplets linemates Tyler Johnson (center) and Nikita Kucherov (right).

DROUIN TO SYRACUSE

With Palat returning and the Lightning completely healthy at the forward spot – aside from AHL callup Joel Vermin (hand surgery, Dec. 14) -- second-year pro Jonathan Drouin was reassigned to Syracuse on Saturday morning.

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said the move was made to get Drouin more regular playing time, similar to what the Bolts did with Andrei Vasilevskiy a couple weeks ago.

Drouin returned to the Lightning lineup Dec. 30 vs. the New York Rangers after missing the previous eight games with a lower-body injury. Drouin has played just nine games over the past nine weeks, having been sidelined due to injury three separate times.

“He’s been dealing with a minor, nagging injury that’s finally healed,” Yzerman said. “With everybody coming back at the same time, it’s a good opportunity to get a young player a lot of ice time, get his game right back on top and bring him back at the appropriate time.”

Yzerman didn’t have a timetable for Drouin’s return.

“I thought in his first game back the other day in a limited role, he did well,” Yzerman said. “It’s just a matter of going and playing and playing a lot. We’ve done this before. We just did it with Andrei, and I think it’s a good opportunity to play a lot, touch the puck a lot and bring him back at some point.”

VASY TO START

Lightning backup goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was recalled from the Bolts’ AHL affiliate in Syracuse on Friday.

Today, he’ll be in the Lightning net.

Vasilevskiy will make his eight start of the season with the Bolts tonight when they play the Wild. The Russian goalie won his last two starts in Syracuse, turning aside 57-of-60 opponents shots combined in the victories.

Tampa Bay starter Ben Bishop had made six-straight starts but will get a rest tonight.

“Part of probably what’s going on with Drouin is probably going to be similar to what went on with Vasy: got to go get them some games,” Cooper said. “It’s tough when you’re not playing, so it’s tough to get your timing and everything back. And so part of the opportunity of when you can go down to the minors without needing waivers, like that’s why you have the team there is so you can get your timing, get your game shape, everything into play. And I think that’s what’s been our plan for Vasilevskiy, especially with how well (Bishop’s) played. It’s hard to pull Bish out of the net when he’s playing as well as he is, and Vasy, the same as Drouin, are young up-and-coming players. When you miss a prolonged amount of time, it’s in your best interest to go and get game time.”

Bishop left practice on Friday after skating for just a few minutes but said he “felt good today” and was “ready to go tonight if need be.” Bishop fully participated in today’s morning skate.

Cooper said starting Vasilevskiy tonight had nothing to do with Bishop leaving practice early.

“I know people are sitting there thinking, ‘Oh well, Bish left practice yesterday. That’s why Vasilevskiy’s playing.’ That’s not why Vasy’s playing. He was playing regardless tonight. That was in the plan. And then we go out west, we’ve got back-to-backs in there and stuff like that so we need him ready to play games.”

ODDS AND ENDS

The Lightning have scored a power-play goal in five-straight games, their longest stretch of consecutive games with a power-play goal this season…The Bolts have tallied nine power-play goals over the last five games and now rank tied for fifth in the NHL for home power play (25%)…Sticking with special teams, Tampa Bay hasn’t given up a power-play goal in five-consecutive games and is one more perfect night on the penalty kill away from matching the season-high of six straight without allowing a power-play goal (Oct. 17-29)…Lightning defensemen have scored seven goals in the last seven games after scoring just seven in the previous 31 combined…Tampa Bay is only 1-4-2 this season vs. Central Division opponents, the lone victory coming in overtime in Winnipeg (Oct. 23).

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