Author: James O'Brien

Tampa Bay Lightning v New Jersey Devils

Lightning coach says Palat is the Bergeron of wingers


It’s tough to deny that the Tampa Bay Lightning’s second line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov is the league’s best. Really, the best argument might be that it isn’t a second line at all.

Johnson generated some headlines with his two-goal night on Sunday while Kucherov’s 39 points matches that of Steven Stamkos, yet head coach Jon Cooper told that he believes Palat is the driving force of that impressive young trio.

In fact, he makes a pretty lofty comparison to a perennial Selke candidate.

“I still believe Palat is the straw that stirs the drink on that line,” Cooper said. “He’s oozing with hockey sense and he’s skilled. He is like Patrice Bergeron as a winger to me.”

Looking at possession stats (see here and here), Bergeron is almost in a league of his own, but the comparison isn’t totally outrageous. (Kucherov’s possession stats are pretty impressive, too, although he’s enjoyed somewhat easier assignments.)

At 23, Palat is likely scratching the surface of his two-way game, which makes one wonder if he’ll eventually be as dominant as the elite all-around guys like Bergeron.

One thing that might stand in his way is that the Selke is largely the domain of centers, as notes:

The Selke Trophy has been awarded to a center for 10 consecutive seasons and 27 of the past 32 seasons because typically when you talk about forwards who play as many as 20 minutes per game, on the power play and on the penalty kill, and who are used in close situations (down a goal or up a goal) late in games, you’re talking about centers.

It would be a bummer for Palat if he’s disregarded, but the Lightning have to be very excited about the possibilities with him and their other impressive young players.

‘Hockey gods’ torment, then redeem Blue Jackets’ Savard

Chicago Blackhawks v Columbus Blue Jackets

If it weren’t for DeMarcus Lawrence of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman David Savard would have experienced the most dramatic up-and-down swing in sports on Sunday.

Just 30 seconds into the game, there was this brutal turnover by Savard, which helped Jarome Iginla give the Colorado Avalanche a 1-0 lead:

In a moment that almost seemed scripted, Savard scored the game-winning goal with about a minute remaining in the third period, giving Columbus a 4-3 win against Colorado:

It’s the kind of night that leaves you shaking your head in disbelief, as the 24-year-old noted to the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline.

“I’ve never had a night like that,” Savard said. “Not even close.”

For defenseman Jack Johnson – who helped Savard’s keep his spirits up – it was nothing short of some sort of sporting divine intervention.

“If I didn’t believe in the hockey gods before now, I definitely do,” Johnson said. “They’re real. I saw ’em.”

The hockey gods and football gods seemed determined to provide players with dramatic peaks and valleys today, it seems.

Sharp earns Chicago a wild OT win against Dallas

Dallas Stars v Chicago Blackhawks

Sunday seemed like it would be all about testing the red-hot Dallas Stars. More than anything else, the Chicago Blackhawks’ eventual 5-4 OT win was a huge challenge for Corey Crawford and Kari Lehtonen, really.

It was a thriller – particularly in an overtime period that was full of staggering moments – but Patrick Sharp’s clincher ended up being the difference.

Lehtonen helped Dallas stick things out despite some bend-but-not-break moments, although he’d almost certainly like to have Brad Richards’ game-tying goal back.

It was an exciting game that probably added some gray hairs for head coaches Joel Quenneville and Lindy Ruff, especially when the two teams combined for three goals in less than three minutes:

This ended a four-game winning streak for the Stars, who have now lost three games against the Blackhawks (despite strong showing in two of those contests). As dispiriting as it must be to fall short against Chicago once again, Dallas is moving within striking distance of a Western Conference playoff spot, a thought that seemed pretty outlandish before the Stars really took off in mid-December.

Considering the fact that the Blackhawks are their overbearing neighbors in the Central Division, it’s clear that the Stars still have a way to go.

The two teams meet again in Chicago on Jan. 18 and then close out their season series with a March 21 contests in Dallas.

Tyler Johnson’s star continues to rise for Tampa Bay

Pittsburgh Penguins v Tampa Bay Lightning

Here’s a scary thought for Tampa Bay Lightning opponents: they boast a forward line that may just be scarier than the trio featuring Steven Stamkos.

It’s still a pretty small sample size, yet it’s getting tougher to deny that Tyler Johnson might just be a star on the rise. He scored two goals to help Tampa Bay earn a 4-2 comeback win against the Ottawa Senators and currently sits with four more points (43 vs. 39) than the Lightning’s marquee player.

The two couldn’t be more different in some basic ways.

Johnson, 24, is an under-sized forward who may just become something of a spiritual successor to Martin St. Louis. If nothing else, he shares St. Louis’ distinction of being an undrafted player who is high among the ranks of the NHL’s most prolific scorers.

Stamkos, also 24, is the type of talent scouts dream about. He was the first pick of the 2008 NHL Draft and scores goals like these.

It’s not to say that Johnson is doing it alone, mind you.

Nikita Kucherov, 21, has just as many points as Stamkos with 39. Ondrej Palat, 23, has 30 points while dealing with some injury issues that sidelined him for a few games.

The point isn’t to debate Stamkos vs. Johnson, especially since the long-term outlook likely favors Tampa Bay’s big name. Instead, it’s awe-inspiring to ponder the notion that the Lightning might have two absolutely fearsome line combinations … all in their early 20’s.

Can Palat – Johnson – Kucherov maintain this pace, even to a lesser extent? One would assume that pucks will bounce their way less often, yet they may still be able to pose a consistent threat. Especially if they’re merely scratching the surface of their potential.

That all remains to be seen. In the meantime, check out video of Johnson’s two goals from Sunday:

Video: Stars, Blackhawks combine for three goals in less than three minutes

Chicago Blackhawks v Dallas Stars
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Sometimes, two teams clash in a game that seems like it will be a shooting gallery on paper, only it ends up being a tight-checking affair. That hasn’t been the case between the Dallas Stars and Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, as they’ve enthralled viewers on NBCSN.

The pace was most blistering – especially for Kari Lehtonen and Corey Crawford – when the two teams combined for three goals in less than three minutes.

Check out video of that hectic second-period run: