Jeff Halpern, ahead of schedule, is back in the lineup tonight for the Tampa Bay Lightning
Just yesterday, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said he believed center Jeff Halpern would not be ready to play until Thursday's game with the Panthers. But Halpern, who has missed five games with a lower-body injury (not including Friday night's partial game in New Jersey) will play tonight against the Flyers.
Coach Rick Tocchet also said he was surprised, but when Halpern told him he was ready to go and that was confirmed by the medical staff, Tocchet gave him the go-ahead, especially because it gives Tampa Bay more of a veteran presence against a team that is playing well right now.
So who sits out? Early speculation is that either Blair Jones or James Wright might be scratched. If you've been reading here, you know Tocchet lately has been critical of Jones' game the last little while. Wright also has seen his game dip recently and on Friday had much trouble clearing the puck from the defensive zone.
The only other change, Tocchet said, is Antero Niittymaki making his first start since a Dec. 18 victory over the Blues.
Other stuff from the morning skate: Still no word on when Friday's suspended game with the Devils will be resumed. The Lightning is pushing to play as early as tomorrow because they are in the area and can still have Monday off before Tuesday's game with the Capitals. If the game is resumed tomorrow, it means both the Lightning and Devils will play three straight days, though because the game will resume from where it left off, the teams will play only 29 minutes. If the game, for example, is played Monday, the teams would not play three straight games, but the Lightning would be penalized because it would have to travel Monday night and play the Caps at home on Tuesday. Doesn't seem fair that the Lightning should be penalized. Sounds like a Sunday game makes the most sense, but who knows? ... Left wing Ryan Malone said that despite taking 16 stitches Friday for a gash in the back of his right thigh, he was ready to return to the game if it had continued. Malone, who will play tonight, was hurt early in the second period when he fell directly on the tip of Martin Brodeur's skate. "Just a simple cut," Malone said. "Nothing serious, nothing at all." Of the incident, Malone said, "I think I was moving out of the way of (Kurtis Foster's) shot, and it felt like my feet got kicked out from under me, maybe, and then I just landed on his skate. It was a weird play." ... Lots of praise for Steve Downie who scored a power play goal on Friday and has slowly worked his way into a seemingly permanent top-six situation. "He's a lot quicker than people give him credit for," Tocchet said. "People said, 'His skating,' but to me, A to B is where you judge a guy. You can have the prettiest skaters in the world that are up and down, and you don't accomplish anything. When the puck's up for grabs, he comes up with loose pucks. He's one of our best corner men along with Ryan Malone. That's the sort of stuff that wins playoff hockey." Tocchet also said he wants Downie to improve more in the defensive zone so he can put him on the ice late in games. "That's the next step for him," Tocchet said. "If he can add that to his tool bag, he's going to be a complete hockey player." Downie said his time with the Lightning has been invaluable. "I've learned so much in the last year and a half being here," he said. "I'm happy with where my game is, but I think I have more."