After nearly a week off the ice, the Tampa Bay Lightning became reacquainted with each other for a late Monday practice.
After ending the All-Star break on a four-game winning streak, the final game before the break with nine players out due to injury, Tampa Bay will face Southeast Division leading Washington Tuesday with a few more healthy bodies back in the lineup.
And with a major post-break push required to even consider the chance of reaching the playoffs this season, the healthier the happier for Lightning head coach Guy Boucher.
"I know that you can hold on for a while when you have injuries, but you can't hold on forever,'' Boucher said. "It's good to see some guys back for sure. It's the perfect moment.''
The Lightning come out of the break staring at a nine-point deficit and looking to gain some traction to climb into the playoff picture the cliché way – one game at a time. And getting back some regulars in the lineup – including defenseman Victor Hedman – is a welcome addition to the lineup.
"It's nice and we've been battling more than usual with our injuries (and) ... of course you want your key guys playing in the lineup,'' captain Vinny Lecavalier said.
Of the nine there were missing in last week's 4-2 victory against Columbus before the break, three figure to make their way back into the lineup on Tuesday, most notably among that trio is defenseman Victor Hedman who has missed the past month with a concussion suffered on Dec. 27 against Philadelphia. The 21-year-old blue liner was cleared for full workouts over a week ago – he participated in the morning skate with the team last week – and has been cleared for full contact. Hedman, who skated three times during the break, took part in the full practice on Monday for the first time since suffering the injury.
"I feel awesome,'' Hedman said after the 65-minute practice. "I feel good and ready to play. I want to be in the lineup all the time and contribute and do whatever it takes to help the team win.''
Also expected back is Ryan Shannon, who has been out since suffering a knee sprain on Dec. 21, along with Tom Pyatt, who suffered a leg injury during practice on Jan. 19 and missed two games. J.T. Wyman, out with a finger laceration suffered on Jan. 3, also practiced on Monday while wearing a noncontact red jersey and is a possibility to return to the lineup.
"If there is any way possible to help the team by coming back from injury, and we tried to create a good atmosphere with the recovery doing everything we possible could to get back and help,'' Shannon said. "Now that we are healthy, I think are going to be able to help and hopefully we'll be able to get on a run.''
The news wasn't all positive, however, as Ryan Malone did not practice and will miss his second consecutive game with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron also missed practice and will miss his sixth consecutive game.
With only 10 healthy forwards on the ice for practice on Monday, the Lightning will likely have to make at least one recall from Norfolk of the American League to fill out a lineup, even if Boucher plans to dress seven defensemen for the second consecutive game.
But no matter who dresses for the game, the mantra remains the same when it comes to the mountain in the standings.
"It's a mountain climber attitude, don't look up (at the standings) and don't look down,'' Boucher said. "You can't be afraid of heights if you are too high and can't be afraid of the height that's up there because it's discouraging. Stay away from it, that's the rock-climbing attitude.''
CAPITALS AT LIGHTNING
WHERE: The Forum, Tampa
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. tonight
TV/RADIO: NBC Sports Network/620 AM
INJURIES: Lightning — D Mattias Ohlund (knee), RW Adam Hall (upper body), D Marc-Andre Bergeron (upper body), RW Dana Tyrell (lower body), LW Ryan Malone (upper body), out; LW JT Wyman (upper body), questionable; RW Ryan Shannon (knee), D Victor Hedman (concussion), C Tom Pyatt (leg), probable. Capitals — D Mike Green (groin), C Nicklas Backstrom (concussion), D Tom Poti (groin), LW Alex Ovechkin (suspension), out.
ALL-TIME SERIES: Tampa Bay is 32-59-11 all time, including 18-28-4 at home.
NEED TO KNOW: Washington LW Alex Ovechkin is serving the second game of his three-game suspension. ... This is the third of six meetings; Washington won the first two, one in overtime. … Tampa Bay has won a season-best four consecutive games and trails Southeast Division-leading Washington by nine points. … The Capitals are 8-13-2 on the road and have been outscored 76-58. … The Lightning’s eighth-ranked home power play (20.3 percent) faces Washington’s 27th-ranked road penalty kill (76.6). Washington is 25th in road power play (13 percent) and Tampa Bay is 27th in home penalty kill (78 percent). … G Mathieu Garon will start. … C Vinny Lecavalier and RW Marty St. Louis have six-game scoring streaks.