TORONTO — When Ryan Callahan took a nasty spill into the boards in Arizona on Dec. 14, the veteran wing felt several emotions.
Anger. Disappointment. Frustration.
After all the work to come back from two hip surgeries last season, Callahan found out he’d be sidelined for at least three to four weeks.
"Words can’t describe how I felt when that happened," Callahan said. "Even the next couple days, it took me a few days to wrap my head around it. I almost felt like I was dreaming. Such an unlucky play.
"It took me a few days to clear my head and get focused. This Christmas break was really good for me, let me go home and re-set myself. It was the perfect time for me to get out of my own way and you get a little bit of the ‘poor me’ going when things pile up."
Callahan is in a lot better frame of mind now, especially with his return getting closer. He got cleared for contact for Sunday’s morning skate, right on schedule for Thursday’s three-week mark since the upper-body injury.
"We’re definitely close," Callahan said.
Callahan, limited to 18 games last season, entered this year hungrier than he’s been in years. And Callahan was playing well, with GM Steve Yzerman noting he was doing everything but scoring.
Callahan, with six points in 29 games (one goal), had five shots (and a goal waived off) in that game in Arizona before he was pulled into the boards. The Lightning has sorely missed Callahan’s work on the penalty kill, having allowed 10 power-play goals in the seven games he’s been out.
"I’ve really enjoyed the way I’ve played this year," Callahan said. "I think I’ve been effective. I’ve had my chances. The amount of goals I could have right now. … I’m happy where I was at. Hopefully I can come back and get right there."
Johnny be good
Tyler Johnson wrapped up the most prolific month of his career, his two goals Sunday giving him 18 points in December (eight goals).
Johnson said keeping an even keel was key, even during a career-long 15-game goal drought that preceded this streak. Coach Jon Cooper also thinks the success is a result of a shoot-first mentality. During Johnson’s 15-game slump, he had five games where he had zero shots on goal. He’s racked up 28 shots in his current 12-game points streak.
"A perfect example of Tyler Johnson: First period (Sunday), he’s on a 2-on-1, and he tries to make a pass, second period he comes out and shoots the puck and two end up in the net," Cooper said. "It’s a simple solution for him. He knows that. A lot of times it comes down to guys are being extremely unselfish, and you can’t fault players for that. But for our success, sometimes we’ve got to be a little selfish. When the guys started shooting, things started going in the net."
Quote to note
"We definitely have a lot of confidence. A lot of mojo." — wing Nikita Kucherov on the Lightning, which is 28-8-2 with 58 points
Nuts and bolts
Lightning prospect Brett Howden continued his strong showing at the World Junior Championships in Buffalo, scoring twice for Canada in Saturday’s win over Denmark; D Cal Foote had three assists. …The Lightning’s opponent tonight, Toronto, is struggling in a 4-5-1 stretch, including a 6-3 loss to Vegas Sunday. … D Anton Stralman said he felt good in Sunday’s return after missing two games with a lower body injury; he played well, too, with four shots and a plus-2 in 18:08.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] [email protected]_JSmith.