Jon Cooper’s confidence in Tyler Johnson keeps growing and Tampa Bay’s productive rookie keeps justifying that faith with a string of solid efforts.
Johnson assisted on two goals by Marty St. Louis in Saturday’s 5-4 loss to San Jose, giving the 23-year-old center 29 points for the season. Johnson leads all NHL rookie forwards in average ice time (18:30) and he has at least one point (four goals, seven assists) in 10 of his past 13 games.
“The one thing about Johnny is he’s never going to cheat,’’ said Cooper, who played Johnson for 25 shifts against the Sharks. “I think that’s what separates guys from making it in this league. You know what you’re getting all the time. He may not make the right play every single time, but he’s going to do it working as hard as he possibly can.’’
Johnson wasn’t drafted and he signed with the Lightning as a free agent on March 7, 2011. Less than three years later, he’s playing with St. Louis on Tampa Bay’s top line while Steven Stamkos recovers from a fractured tibia.
“Tyler’s got that heart in him,’’ Cooper said. “He’s been pushed down so many times, undrafted, not this, not that, yet he finds himself winning championships on every team he goes to. There’s no quit in the kid and he’s a winner. You can’t have enough of those guys around.’’
St. Louis adds another chapter
In tying Chris Kontos’ franchise record with four goals, St. Louis posted his eighth career hat trick.
“I don’t think he’s done. It’s pretty impressive,’’ Cooper said. “That’s what’s really disappointing about tonight, for him to have the type of game he had and for us to come out on the losing end is always going to have a little sting. He’ll probably be the first one to tell you it doesn’t mean quite as much because we didn’t win the game. It’s pretty remarkable what he’s done in his career ... and the book’s not done being written.’’
When Kontos heard that St. Louis had already scored four goals with almost 38 minutes remaining against the Sharks, he began cheering for the Tampa Bay captain.
“I was hoping he would get the fifth one and they (Lightning) would get the win on top of it.’’ Kontos said.
St. Louis has posted at least 25 goals in 10 of his past 11 seasons with Tampa Bay, leading the league in scoring twice in that span.
Lightning G Ben Bishop boasted impressive credentials coming into Saturday’s matchup, leading the league in save percentage while ranking second in goals-against average.
But with San Jose’s big bodies in front creating problems, Bishop was beaten five times in 32 shots.
“They keep it simple,’’ said Bishop, who had allowed more than two goals only once in his previous 17 starts. “They get the puck on net and all their goals are scored from in close. They get the rebounds and they know each other so well.’’
With Bishop facing San Jose G Antti Niemi, fans and players had every reason to expect a low-scoring game instead of a 60-minute shootout.
“This game was there for the taking,’’ Cooper said. “Ben’s human. He’s going to have nights like this. We’ve got to bail him out. It was a weird game, the way the bounces were going.’’
Was the unusual starting time a factor?
“When you get a 2 o’clock game,’’ St. Louis said, “you never know what to expect.’’