Two nights ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning reunited its Triplets line, which had been on the shelf for over a month, with the return of left wing Ondrej Palat from injured reserve.
The line was the Lightning’s top offensive grouping vs. Ottawa, Nikita Kucherov scoring two goals in the Bolts’ 4-1 victory.
Unfortunately, the Lightning will have to wait a while to see the trio together again.
During Tampa Bay’s morning skate, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said Tyler Johnson would miss the next few games after reaggrevating the injury that sidelined him three games (Nov. 28-Dec. 5) against the Senators.
“We’ll be lucky to see Johnson on the road trip,” Cooper said, referring to the Lightning’s upcoming swing through Columbus (Dec. 14), Toronto (Dec. 15) and Washington (Dec. 18). “…We’re probably going to have to err on the side of caution now, very similar to (Cedric) Paquette because we just can’t have this back for one (game), gone for three, back for one, gone for four. We’ve got to make sure these guys are ready to go. The players are trying as hard as they can to get back in. It’s just unfortunate.”
Including tonight’s matchup at Amalie Arena versus the Washington Capitals, Johnson will have missed seven of the Lightning’s last 11 games.
“That’s the tough thing about this is right when you think you’re kind of getting back to full strength, it’s another setback,” Cooper said. “So when we thought there was potential that we’d be fully healthy this week, now that’ll get pushed back another week and hopefully nobody else gets hurt.”
With Johnson out, the Lightning recalled forward Mike Blunden from its AHL affiliate in Syracuse.
Blunden has been recalled twice already this season by the Bolts and has played in two games, registering three shots.
In 20 games with the Crunch, Blunden has five goals, four assists and 26 penalty minutes. Blunden ranks tied for third on the Crunch for goals and tied for eighth for points.
“The guys that are coming up here, they’re coming up because they deserve to come up,” Cooper said. “They’ve earned the right in Syracuse to play (here).”
At 6-foot-4, 217 pounds, Blunden packs a punch a player the size of Johnson (5’9”, 185 lbs.) might not be able to.
“Blunden’s a bigger body for us and he goes to a lot of those areas, not that our guys can’t go to or won’t go to (those areas), but sometimes it’s harder for them to get there against bigger, stronger defensemen,” Cooper said. “…Blunden can go to those areas, and he plays a big-man’s game.”
Cooper wouldn’t say if Blunden will play tonight or if the Lightning will go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen.
The Lightning have given up just two goals combined during the first period of their last 10 games.
One of those goals came fifteen days ago at the Verizon Center when Washington jumped out to 1-0 first-period advantage and a 4-0 lead in the third behind three power-play goals to win 4-2 over the Bolts.
“Our team defense has been exceptional here the last month, except for the last time we played (Washington),” Cooper said. “The one thing for us, we’ve got to get the lead. In these games when we’ve been getting the lead and we’ve been scoring first, we’ve been able to close teams out. It’s when we don’t get the lead and we’re chasing the game, that’s been trouble for us.”
Tampa Bay is 11-3-0 this season when scoring first.
Conversely, the Capitals are 13-1-0 when tallying the game’s first goal.
ODDS AND ENDS
Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop is 7-1-1 in his last nine starts and is tied with Washington’s Braden Holtby for the best goals-against average (1.95) in the NHL…Bishop has given up two goals or less in 12 of his last 14 starts…The Lightning rank third in the NHL for goals allowed per game (2.21), trailing only Los Angeles (2.07) and the New York Rangers (2.17)…Tampa Bay has given up the least amount of goals (35) in the league in 5-on-5 situations…Amalie Arena has sold out 29-consecutive games (including playoffs) dating back to last season. The last time the Lightning didn’t sell out