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Drouin returns as Lightning back on the ice after Christmas break

The Lightning (26-7-2) returns to the ice tonight after the three-day Christmas break to play the visiting Canadiens (16-17-4), the first of eight-straight against Eastern Conference teams.

It also marks the return of former Lightning wing Jonathon Drouin, who was traded in June to Montreal for D Mikhail Sergachev, who has been nothing short of impressive in his 35 games this season.

"We're excited for (Drouin) to get a chance to go to Montreal and sign that deal (6 years, $33 million) that he did and be the player that he wants to be," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "Obviously, it didn't work out here the way he liked. I think he's moved on, and we've moved on. Sergi has been a huge piece of our team this year, and that's all you can want."

Drouin, a big piece in the Lightning teams that played for the Stanley Cup in 2015 and reached the conference finals the following year, has five goals and 18 points this season. He is a minus-15 in 32 games.

Sergachev has eight goals and 23 points and is a plus-20 during his rookie season.

"It's good to have depth," Cooper said of the addition of Sergachev to the defense. "Now you can bring two power plays out there where you have two guys who can run them, whereas in the past we were a little unsure where that was going to come from. It's just a matter of him just getting used to the league and the experience, but he's been pretty adaptive in doing that so far in the short time he's been in the league. You just watch his instincts and some of the things he does on the ice. Some guys don't do that 300 games in let alone 30 games in. It's a confidence thing, but he's got the skills to do it. It's been pretty impressive to watch."

The Canadiens lost 3-1 on Wednesday to the Hurricanes in Carolina. That means they've had two plane trips in two days, while the Lightning practiced Wednesday and skated again this morning.

Normally, the Lightning have the advantage at home when facing a team on the second night of a back-to-back. In fact, they are 5-0 this year.

But there was some debate this morning as to if that holds true since the Lightning last played Saturday.

Said Stamkos: "I don't know if it's an advantage or disadvantage that they played last night. Usually when you catch a team on a back-to-back its' better. But they got their legs under them after the break. This is our first game after. We'll see how it goes. We really like the way we played the last seven or eight games on home ice and we expect the same."

Said Cooper: "There could be some truth to that. It's always good to answer that question after the game. The one thing good is when you do have the break there is something to be said about potential rust. Montreal has been banged around a little bit. They've been in that game situation and we really haven't. We've had practice and a pregame skate. There could be something to that."

And don't forget the Canadiens are playing fresh off a loss, Cooper said.

"That does come into effect a little bit," he said. "The other thing is when a team does not win on the front end of a back-to-back the team is a little more gnarly when they come in because they dropped one."

Some notes:

F Ryan Callahan participated in Thursday's morning skate for the first time since suffering an upper body injury Dec. 14. He wore a red no-contact jersey.

The Lightning are playing the first half of a back-to-back (Philadelphia plays here Friday). It is 4-1-0 in the front end of back-to-back this season.
The Lightning has won a season-high seven straight at home.

Tonight begins a stretch of seven games in 11 days and nine in 15.

RW Nikita Kucherov leads the NHL with 24 goals and 51 points. Kucherov's 51 points is second in team history through 35 games. Vinny Lecavalier had 53 in 2007-2008.

C Steven Stamkos is tied with Edmonton's Connor McDavid in scoring with 45 points.

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