It’s been a little more than a month since Steven Stamkos underwent surgery and each Tampa Bay Lightning line is starting to find their niche to get the job done in his absence.
Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Martin St. Louis have combined for thirteen points in their past four games, while newcomers J.T. Brown and Nikita Kucherov have finally become comfortable to the point that their contributions are making their mark on the score sheet.
“Even [Valtteri] Filppula, [Alex] Killorn and [Teddy] Purcell have played well and created some chances,” head coach Jon Cooper said.
It is a breakthrough for the Bolts, who after playing a handful of solid games as a tribute to Stamkos, faced the reality of filling his offensive void.
“You find some chemistry between those three lines and it’s given us some jump,” Cooper said. Even [Dana] Tyrell, [B.J.] Crombeen and [Richard] Panik have contributed on special teams and given us a boost that we need.
“It makes it easier as a coach to know that you can call on a line and they’re going to do well for you,” he continued.
Proving that Tampa Bay can win in close games, like Thursday’s six-round, 2-1, shootout win, has been emphasized by the coaching staff. The explanation - the deeper the Bolts get into their 82-game season, the more likely it is to happen.
However, excluding their 6-5 shootout loss to the Caps this week, the Lightning have only tallied five goals in December.
“Naturally you want to say we can score more,” Cooper said. “We’ve been pretty good in our own end and when we haven’t, [Ben] Bishop and [Anders] Lindback has done their part to bail us out. I think we need to find a way to score one more goal a game.”
Jumping out of the gate running, much like the 3-0 lead they built on Washington, is something they have also lacked as of late.
“We didn’t come out as hard as we could have against Detroit,” Killorn said. “We want to play well a full 60 minutes. That just comes with being mentally prepared better and knowing what you have coming ahead of you.”
From a coaching perspective, Cooper and the rest of the staff said it is about managing rest on a day-to-day basis and being a support system to get them ready come puck drop.
“You don’t play 82-games of flawless hockey,” Cooper said. “But you still need to find a way to grind out a win and we did that Thursday night.”
Last week Kucherov found himself frustrated in that though the effort was still their, the results were not exactly showing up.
Cooper said that after the winger started his stint by shooting the puck he had shied away from that mentality as of late and was deferring the puck to others instead.
“Like I’ve said all along, if he shoots pucks, they have eyes,” he said. “Most shots he takes aren’t bad shots.”
Kucherov initially said he wanted to improve his all-around game after his recall and Cooper has noticed he is playing all “200-feet” of the ice and has been getting involved defensively.
ODDS ‘N ENDS
J.T. Brown did not skate at practice Friday (maintenance day).
Forward Richard Panik, who was suspended for two games Wednesday evening after boarding Karl Alzner in Tuesday’s contest versus the Washington Capitals, will serve the second game of his sentence Saturday at New Jersey.
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