The other day, I wrote that it was the sooner, the better for the return of Jonathan Drouin and Cedric Paquette to the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup. Drouin finally returned last night against the Anaheim Ducks and did so with an exclamation mark. The Lightning won 2-1 in a rather tight game from beginning to end with some quirks from the officials. Drouin got primary points on both of the Lightning's goals, scoring the first goal and then having the primary assist on Jonathan Marchessault's power play goal.
Drouin hadn't had a point since the fifth game of the season and had a nine game drought going before breaking through last night. I'll admit to sleeping through most of the third period with the late west coast game so I didn't see everything. Through the first two periods I saw him playing with speed, backing off opponents, finding space, and making some good passes to set up chances. He did have a few giveaways and that is something that fans have to accept will always be a part of his game as he tries to squeeze passes into tight windows. Give credit to the opposing team as well for getting sticks in the way when he tries to thread the needle.
Drouin's first goal started with Vladislav Namestnikov making a controlled entry into the zone with the puck. He skated around to the left corner and passed the puck up to Matt Carle at the left point who quickly moved the puck to Jason Garrison at the right point. Unable to see a hole to the net, Garrison made a smart move to shoot the puck in at the end boards hoping for a favorable bounce. Nikita Kucherov fought a defender and tapped the puck back towards the net. Namestnikov was also battling in front of the net and without a shot tapped the puck to Drouin who had backed into some space. He quickly took the puck and wristed it through a tiny hole between John Gibson's pad and blocker to ding the puck off the far post and in. Not many players in the league have the poise and control to make that shot count.
His second point came on the power play with the second unit. Valtteri Filppula had attempted to get the puck up to Drouin as they entered the zone along the left side. Drouin was beat to the puck by a Duck defenseman who pushed the puck back up the boards where Filppula intercepted it. Drouin moved past the defenseman and down into the corner where Filppula got the puck back to him. Seeing Marchessault sneaking in from the high slot, Drouin made a pass from just outside of Gretzky's Office right onto Marchessault's stick where he one-timed it into the net over Gibson's shoulder.
This was the Jonathan Drouin that Steve Yzerman envisioned when he drafted him third overall. He used his speed all night and created chances. He fought for the puck and was occasionally out muscled which is to be expected with a smaller forward like him. His hard work paid off for him and the team tonight as he mustered those two points and ultimately two standings points for the Lightning to begin this road trip. Now the Lightning are on to San Jose on Saturday night. Can Drouin continue his performance against the Sharks?