It’s looking more and more like the Triplets line will make its return tonight when the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Ottawa Senators at Amalie Arena.
Left wing Ondrej Palat, the lone member of the Triplets still on the mend, practiced for a second-straight day at the Lightning’s morning skate and showed no ill effects from the lower-body injury that forced him out of the last 12 games.
Asked if Palat was good to go for tonight’s game, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper responded positively.
“We think so,” he said. “We’ll see tonight.”
The Triplets haven’t played together as a line since Minnesota’s Nino Niederreiter fell onto Palat’s left leg on November 7 in Saint Paul. Before that, the line struggled to replicate its success from last season and had been split up at times in an attempt to spark a Lightning offense that is scoring just 2.32 goals per game, 26th in the NHL.
The Lightning led the league in scoring (3.16) in 2014-15.
“There were a lot of things that were going on (at the beginning of the season) and a lot of things we had to deal with and then we got those injuries once we started to feel a little bit better and really haven’t been able to connect after that,” Triplets center Tyler Johnson said. “So, this could be the first time all three of us are healthy and ready to play. Hopefully, we can continue what we finished with last season.”
Johnson said Palat brings a number of intangibles to the Lightning lineup in addition to his offensive prowess.
“He’s a guy that when he goes into a corner, you know he’s going to come out with the puck,” Johnson said. “…When you’re on his line, he makes it so easy for you because you don’t necessarily have to support him, try to help him win the puck back, you can get into a position to score or a better position to make a play. He’s a competitor. He gives it his all each night, and he just makes the game a lot easier.”
Palat scored two goals and had five assists through 16 games before the injury.
IMPORTANT ATLANTIC DIVISION TILT
The Lightning will get two cracks at the Ottawa Senators at home in the next 11 days, the first coming tonight.
Tampa Bay hosts Ottawa again December 20.
The Senators are six points ahead of the Lightning in the Atlantic standings and tied with Detroit for second place in the division.
The Lightning are currently sixth in the Atlantic.
“(The Senators) had that unreal run to finish the year last year and then they lost early in the playoffs, but I can’t sit here and say you can look at their playoff run as a sample size,” Cooper said. “Very similar to us a couple years ago when we had the great regular season, got swept in the playoffs and then came back and had another great regular season. I think they’re only getting better, and they’ve always been a tough matchup for us. I think we play similar styles with our speed and skill and all those other things…They’ve had success here against us in this building.”
Ben Bishop was the first goaltender off the ice at today’s morning skate, signifying he’ll make his 22nd start of the season tonight. Bishop, who played parts of two seasons with Ottawa (2011-12, 2012-13) before being traded to the Lightning in exchange for Cory Coacher (April 3, 2013), has never lost to his former team in regulation, going 6-0-3 with a 2.24 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 10 games.
“I know a lot of guys over there,” Bishop said. “It’s always fun playing against your buddies. I don’t know where the success really comes from, but it’s always fun getting a chance to play against your old team.”
Tampa Bay squandered a season-high six power-play opportunities in Sunday’s 3-1 loss in Los Angeles.
The Lightning, in fact, are 2-for-23 (8.7%) on the power play over the last six games and rank T-24th in the NHL for the season at 16.5 percent.
Cooper said the power-play struggles were the main reason the Bolts fell to the Kings. Tampa Bay had a 5-on-3 situation and a 4-on-3 power play in the game and didn’t register a shot on either.
“We can’t be going through these 5-on-3s, 4-on-3s without getting shots,” Cooper said. “We’ve got long stretches of power-play time where we’ve got possession, but we’re getting nothing out of it. So, we’ve been really hammering home that point, and hopefully it kicks in tonight.”
ODDS AND ENDS
The Lightning haven’t lost to Ottawa at home since March 6, 2012 (a 7-3 defeat) and are 5-0-2 since the start of the 2012-13 season…Tyler Johnson averages over a point a game (6 goals, 5 assists in 10 games) against Ottawa…The Bolts are 4-5-1 against the Atlantic Division so far this season…Provided he’s in the lineup, Brian Boyle will play in his 499th career NHL game tonight. Boyle has played 107 games with Tampa Bay, 355 with the New York Rangers and 36 with Los Angeles.