Tampa Bay’s Ondrej Palat was injured Saturday night, and the diagnosis isn’t good for the Lightning or their 24-year-old left winger.
During a net-front scramble in the second period, Palat got tangled up with Minnesota Wild winger Nino Niederreiter. As the puck bounced to the side of the net, Niederreiter fell on top of Palat’s leg, which bent awkwardly and left him writhing on the ice:
The Lightning announced Monday that Palat will miss a “significant amount of time,” with his time frame for return being between three and five weeks. On the low end, that means Palat could miss as few as nine games, but a five-week absence could mean Palat misses up to 15 games.
Palat told TampaBayLightning.com’s Bryan Burns that he knew the injury could be serious as soon as Niederreiter landed.
“When he fell on it, it didn’t feel right,” Palat told Burns. “I was in big pain.”
Palat has really come into his own playing on a line with Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov — the ‘Triplets’ line — over the past two seasons, and set career highs with 47 assists and 63 points in 2014-15. But more than Palat’s offensive production, his ability to be an all-situations player was what made him so important to Tampa Bay’s lineup. Last season, Palat averaged nearly two minutes per game on the penalty kill, more than two minutes on the power play and had the fourth-highest average ice time of any forward.
“It’s an opportunity for other people now to play important minutes because Palat plays all the hard minutes and all the important minutes,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper told Burns. “He’s a leader in our locker room. He may not be the guy that’s vocal all the time, but just his work ethic and the way he plays the game, he’s as honest a player you’re going to find in this league.”
Cooper had been experimenting with his lines early this season and had broken up the Triplets line, but Cooper’s go-to line in times of need is now missing a major piece. It’ll be hard to say who fills in quite yet — Mike Blunden has been called up from the AHL, but will likely skate fourth-line minutes — but the Lightning did put Alex Killorn with Johnson and Kucherov in Monday’s skate, with Jonathan Drouin skating alongside Steven Stamkos and Valtteri Filppula to round out the top-six.
Through 16 games, Palat has two goals and seven points and was averaging 18:12 per game, the third-highest among forwards.