After three light days to recuperate from a 7,000-mile preseason journey, the Tampa Bay Lightning will return to a regular workload starting with this morning's practice.
It's time to get down to the task of preparing for the season opener Saturday in Atlanta now that the 23-man roster has been finalized.
While training camp essentially ended with Sunday's 5-1 preseason finale victory against Atlanta, the players have enjoyed a light practice, a day off and an off-ice workout since returning home. That was after playing six games in seven nights, including five in a row, in five time zones.
The regular-season routine begins today.
Judging from how things ran during the preseason, Lightning coach Rick Tocchet likes not only what he has seen on the ice, but also the players' attitudes. That was evident in the effort put forth at the end of last week's road trip.
"It tells me that guys have had enough (stuff), they've just had enough of everything," he said. "I've just seen a different Ryan Malone, I've seen a different Vinny (Lecavalier). And with the D we have, the confidence level, with the camp Mike Smith has had, the confidence level is there. I think guys have just had enough and it's good to see. It's easier for the coaches when you have players like that."
After defensemen Matt Lashoff and Mike Lundin cleared waivers Wednesday and were assigned to AHL Norfolk, the Lightning's final roster includes nine defensemen, and three will have to be scratched on a nightly basis. Without an extra forward, however, being heavy on defensemen isn't likely to be a long-term situation.
"Technically, we believe we have five (extra defensemen) who could be playing in the league right now," GM Brian Lawton said. "So we feel, from our experience last year, there is a real shortage of defensemen around the league, and it happens very quickly. So we feel we have five good assets there and we will evaluate all of our options on a daily basis."
For the time being, the team will move forward with plenty of defensive depth, a luxury the team did not have last year as the Lightning dressed an NHL-record 23 different defensemen.
But just because there is a confident aura surrounding a team that, for the most part, was the butt of jokes throughout last season doesn't mean anybody is going to be making any bold predictions for the season.
"I have no predictions this year," Lawton said. "My only prediction is that we will be there Saturday night ready to have some fun and play hard all year long."