Through the first quarter of the 2014-2015 hockey season the Tampa Bay Lightning are among the top offensive teams in the National Hockey League. The reason being is they have the best pure sniper in the game today in 24-year-old Ontario native Steven Stamkos, and the best offensive depth of any team in the Eastern Conference. However, the Stamkos line has not even been the teams best line this season. Some people think that in order for a line to be great, there needs to be different intangibles brought to the table by each player. Potentially pairing up a two-way forward, a grinder with some skill, and a sniper, like the Tampa first line. The Lightning’s best line however features three young players that play a similar game of speed, more speed, skill, and just have great overall chemistry together on the ice. Their coach Jon Cooper certaintly thinks they play a similar style.
“They sort of have that perfect mix of speed and skill. And it’s weird because they all seem to be on the same wavelength; it’s like they’re triplets,” said Cooper.
I present to you arguably the best line in the game right now, the Tampa Bay Lightning 2nd line ‘The Triplets’ line.
How Was It Formed?
At the end of the first month of the season the Lightning were battling injuries. There was a lot of manpower lost as Ryan Callahan, Brett Connolly, and Alex Killorn were all out of the lineup. The Lightning were on their Western Canada Road Trip and one night in Winnipeg on October 24th, head coach Jon Cooper decided to shuffle his lines. Among the different line combinations was 21-year-old Russian forward Nikita Kucherov being moved up to the 2nd line to play with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. Johnson and Palat have played a lot of hockey together having both grown up in the Lightning system as prospects. Johnson and Palat played together on the Norfolk Admirals and later Syracuse Crunch, the Lightning AHL affiliate. There seemed to be instant chemistry and production when Kucherov brought his speed and skill to the line.
“Obviously I’m very familiar with Palat because we’ve played together forever, but Kuch has come in and we already know where he is going to be. So it’s been pretty easy. It’s been nice and hopefully we can get better,” said Johnson.
Domination of the ‘Yotes’ by the ‘Triplets’
The line really had a breakout night a few games after being put together against the Coyotes when Nikita Kucherov scored his first NHL Hat Trick, Tyler Johnson set a career high with 4 assists, and Ondrej Palat chipped in an apple (assist) of his own on a cross-ice pass to Johnson which lead to an odd man rush for Johnson and Kucherov. Check out the hat trick from Kucherov below and notice the second goal where each member of the line was involved in the play. Palat picks up the puck at his own blueline and sends the pass cross-ice to Tyler Johnson. Johnson uses his incredible speed and quickness and sends a shot on net, the rebound is backhanded in by Kucherov who was driving to the net and actually turned around with his back facing the goal. It was a very nice play by the entire line.
Since being put together on October 24th in Winnipeg, the production of this line has been outstanding. The last piece of the puzzle to the ‘Triplet Line’ was Nikita Kucherov. In the 14 games this line has played together, Kucherov has 16 points with 7 goals and 9 assists. Kucherov has been held off the score sheet in only 3 of the 14 games.
The other winger, Ondrej Palat has 11 points with 3 goals and 8 assists. The speedy center Tyler Johnson has 16 points on 5 goals and 11 assists. Over the span of 14 games since becoming a line, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov have averaged 1.14 points per game, and Ondrej Palat has averaged 0.79 points per game. Johnson is a +9 on the season, Palat a +11, and Kucherov a +10.
Johnson has 2 penalty minutes on the season, Kucherov has 4, and Palat has 10. These guys do not put their teams in shorthanded situations and are responsible hockey players that are enjoying immense success for the time being. At this time last season Palat was selected to represent his country at the Winter Olympics for the Czech Republic team. You better believe that if the Olympics were held this year that Nikita Kucherov (Russia) and Tyler Johnson (United States) would be wearing their countries sweaters. They may have not been on the radar of their countries at the start of the season, but they would have been by now. Johnson would have been a Jamie Benn type addition for the Americans in regards to how he was selected. Benn was not on the radar of Team Canada at the start of last season, but was one of their best players at the Olympics. Imagine Johnson’s speed on the large ice surface and the possibilities Team USA might have had to work with if he was on the roster.
About 20-25 games into the season is where teams start to know what they have, and what players should go where in the lineup. Line combinations a lot of times come and go during the course of an 82 game NHL season. With opposing teams right now facing Tampa, the question is do you put your top defense pairing against the Stamkos line or Tampa Bay’s Line 1A The ‘Triplets’ line. That is going to create a lot of matchup issues moving forward for teams that do not have two shutdown defense pairs. With the way they are playing and appearing on the score sheet routinely, I do not see Tampa Bay’s line 1A of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat, going anywhere anytime soon.
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I am a 2015 graduate of Montclair State University in New Jersey. I have coached ice hockey at the high school level for two seasons here in NJ. I will be covering the Toronto Maple Leafs moving forward for The Hockey Writers.