DETROIT — LW Ryan Malone suited up in his 600th career game on Saturday, a milestone that takes on meaning the later he gets into his career.
“Growing up you always dream about playing in this league, but you never think about the number of games you will play,’’ Malone said. “So it’s a good feeling, and it is a privilege to play in this league so it’s nice to have those little milestones.’’
Malone started the season playing on the top line with C Steven Stamkos and RW Marty St. Louis, but finished Thursday’s game on the fourth line, where he is skated Saturday. But where he plays doesn’t matter to Malone.
“As long as the team keeps winning, that’s always the goal from day one,’’ Malone said. “I think I’m pretty versatile and can play in different situations, so it’s my job as a player to be ready and bring what I can bring. And whatever coach sees fit, that’s where and what I will do.’’
When Lightning head coach Jon Cooper was hired for the final month of last season Malone was coming off an injured shoulder and returned for the final eight games of the season. What Cooper has learned about Malone is the veteran winger can play up and down the roster in different roles.
“He has the skill to play with the top guys and has the brawn to play with the fourth line guys,’’ Cooper said. “I’m not worried when Bugsy is on the ice. He’s big for our morale, he’s big in the locker room with the guys and he keeps other teams honest.’’
Malone also entered the game with just one goal and on a 10-game goalless streak, which he ended with a first period goal.
“It’s definitely been a while since you score and contribute that way, so it’s a little frustrating that way,’’ Malone said before the game. “The team is winning and that’s the most important thing, but you definitely want to be able to contribute on the scoreboard a little bit more.’’
Valtteri Filppula, who spent eight seasons with the Red Wings, had the chance to exchange plenty of hellos with former teammates prior to Tampa Bay’s morning skate.
“It’s definitely a little weird to be on this side (of the locker room) and I guess I’ll have to be focused so I don’t go to the wrong bench,’’ Filppula said.
With six goals on the season, Filppula is two short of his total from the lockout-shortened season a year ago. But with a well-rounded game and versatility to play in all situations, the 29-year-old has been a key free agent acquisition.
“I can’t say enough about his versatility and what he has brought to our team,’’ Cooper said. “I have to give a lot of credit to Steve (Yzerman) and the scouting staff because I wasn’t sure what we were getting when he came in. And for us it’s a home run. He’s been a home run.’’
LW B.J. Crombeen sat out Saturday as a healthy scratch for the first time this season. While it’s not something he wants to do, he will not be a distraction.
“I don’t think any player would be cool with not playing, obviously you want to be playing and contributing to the team, but you are always putting the team first,’’ said Crombeen, who has two assists and is an even plus/minus in 15 games. “And if the coach feels that is what is best for the team, you understand it, work hard and wait for your opportunity.’’
Lightning GM Yzerman continues to field questions as to whether he will participate in the alumni game between Detroit and Toronto as part of the NHL Winter Classic festivities. The alumni game is scheduled to take place at Comerica Park on Dec. 31.
But to this point Yzerman has not committed to the event, or if he will even show up.
“I haven’t given it a lot of thought,’’ Yzerman said. “We’ll have to see what my schedule is at that point, but I haven’t looked that far ahead.’’
Yzerman said he has only skated less than a handful of times since and joked that he doesn’t even own a pair of skates.
“Maybe they’ll have to start up a collection,’’ he said.
Nuts and Bolts
C Steven Stamkos has goals in six consecutive games, one off his career long. He also has points in eight consecutive games. ... D Keith Aulie and LW Pierre-Cedric Labrie were also scratched. ... C Tom Pyatt (broken collar bone) has begun skating on his own but remains limited in his upper body work. Pyatt has been out since Oct. 8, with the original diagnosis six to eight weeks to recover. ...