For the better part of the past month, the Lightning fought the battle of attrition on the injury front.
As the team resumes action after a week-long break for the All-Star game, nearly half of those who missed Tampa Bay's most recent game will return as the Lightning host division-leading Washington on Tuesday night.
Of the nine that were on the injury list, four will be in the lineup – D Victor Hedman, LW JT Wyman, RW Ryan Shannon and C Tom Pyatt – as Tampa Bay looks to make up ground on a nine-point deficit in the standings.
"We didn't have any miracle cures overnight, and we still have some important guys missing, but at least it's not nine like it was for the past month or so,'' Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said.
The biggest addition figures to be Hedman, who ranked second on the team in average ice time when he was sidelined Dec. 27 with a concussion. Out of action for more than a month, Hedman is ready to get back to action.
"I'm ready to get rolling here,'' Hedman said. "There's some excitement to get back out on the ice and feel the crowd behind you playing a sport I love to play. I haven't played in a long time, and there are some nerves, but it's more the excitement to getting back to playing in the games. That's what I want to do.''
Boucher intends to dress seven defensemen to help ease Hedman back into the lineup instead of throwing the 21-year-old back into his normal minutes. That means LW Pierre-Cedric Labrie, who was called up earlier on Tuesday, likely will sit as Boucher will go with 11 forwards.
Frustration put aside
Missing time with an injury often leads to frustration. That feeling, however, tends to go away quickly once realization sets in and the recovery process begins.
"After a couple of days you realize the recovery period is coming, so you just set your head on healing as quick as you can,'' said Shannon, who sprained a knee on Dec. 21. "Instead of trying to rush back, I was able to fully heal and now it's just about getting into the flow of things.''
For Wyman, who took a puck off his pinky finger on Jan. 3 in Ottawa, injury disrupted a strong start. He made his Lightning debut on Dec. 23, picking up a goal and three points in five games after being recalled. The injury couldn't have come at a worse time for the 25-year-old, who had just three NHL games prior to this season.
"It was definitely in the back of my mind when it first happened, but I've long since gone by that point,'' Wyman said. "I changed my mentality pretty early to thinking I had to take advantage of the opportunity to get more time in the gym and work on my lower-body strength, which not everybody has the chance to do, especially in January. And I looked at other ways to improve my game and look at the positives at a time like that.''