USATSI_8905148_154158418_lowresTampa Bay Lightning forward Ondrej Palat will be out three to five weeks with a lower body injury. The 24-year-old will not need surgery.

Palat seemed to have been injured on Saturday during the second period of Tampa’s game against the Minnesota Wild. Nino Niederreiter fell on his leg in a play around the net and Palat left the game after that.

The Lightning have been struggling as of late, so this isn’t good news for the hockey club at all. Palat has seven points in 16 games, which is indicative of the larger struggles of the team. Last season, he had 63 points in 75 games and managed 11 goals on the man-advantage.

“It’s just slump,” Palat said. “We can’t score goals. We’re not winning as much as we want. We still have a good team, [a] lot of talent.”

Tampa is currently third in the Atlantic Division with a 7-7-2 record. They’ve scored 38 goals and have allowed 37, going 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. But they’ve lost six of their past eight games, plus they’ve been shut out three times in that period. And to make matters worse, they’ve only scored three goals in their last six. Ouch.

Head coach Jon Cooper has turned to scrambling the lines, even going so far as to break up the Triplets line of Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov. The line put together 96 even-strength points last season and led the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final, but a lot of time seems to have passed since then.

Even if the Triplets line is asunder, Tampa will be in tight without Palat.

“He’s an extremely valuable player to our team,” Cooper said. “Our depth will be tested now. Palat plays all the hard minutes, and all the important minutes. He’s as honest a player as you’re going to find in this league.”

For now, the Lightning have called up winger Mike Blunden and will stick Jonathan Drouin in Palat’s place on the top line with Steven Stamkos and Valtteri Filppula. And they’ll have to weather the storm, whether they like it or not.

“You can’t really replace a guy like (Palat), the way he plays is pretty unique,” Drouin said. “He’s got the skill, he goes to the net, he’s hard to play against. He’s in your face.”

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