Stamkos participates in Lightning's morning skate
Steven Stamkos' rehab passed another milestone Thursday, when the Lightning's star center - out since Nov. 11 because of a broken right tibia - participated in the morning skate prior to the game with the Islanders at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
"It was great," Stamkos said. "This is the first time I've been out there for a full skate. It was another step in the right direction. It was great mental-wise to be out there, too; great to be out there."
"He's been pretty eager to be out there," coach Jon Cooper said. "I was just talking about his head is farther ahead than his leg is. I have no problem with that, though. I like his energy. It's just a sign every day he's getting closer. That's a good thing."
Stamkos' goal is to be able to play for Canada at next month's Olympics in Sochi, Russia. If he is to do that, he has said, he needs to play in at least two games for the Lightning.
To do that he would have to be ready for the Feb. 6 game at home against the Maple Leafs.
"It felt great," Stamkos said of his leg. "It's probably the best it's felt."
That said, "There's still pain, still hesitation in certain movements, as you could probably see; crossovers and turns, anything that puts torque on the leg. It's sill a sensitive area, but it's improve. Even compared to one and a half, two weeks ago it's improved. We're looking good right now."
Stamkos participated in the full skate - almost. He did sit out the power play drill. But that seemed his only limitation as far as team drills.
"He jumped into the two-on-one drill, it's like, ‘Wow, that's pretty good,' " Cooper said. And then he passed (the puck). I said, ‘I hope you're not coming back as an assist guy. We've got enough of those guys.' He's like, ‘Oh, no. I was just rusty."
Stamkos, who had 14 goals in 17 games when he was injured, realizes he has a long way to go before he is reado play, and said he would not jeopardize his long-term health or put a chance to play in the Olympics before the Lightning.
"The most important thing is my long-term health," he said. "That's the way I look at it. If I can get back to 100 percent and go over there (Russia) and play, that's icing on the cake. If no, I have another two and a half weeks to prepare for the season. If I'm not 100 percent I can look at myself and say, ‘I did everything I can do.' "
Thursday was another step in that direction.
"He definitely lightened things up a little bit," Cooper said of the morning skate. "He was running his mouth a little bit. He was on fire a little bit today. He's a kid. He's a vibrant, fun kid to be around. To have him out there, I could tell just everybody had a little jump, was a little loose. He has that effect. That's why he's one of our captains. He has an effect on the coaching staff, too. You could just tell, there was a lot of hope out on the ice when he was going."
Other stuff from the morning skate: Defenseman Sami Salo (ankle) is expected to play tonight against the Islanders, as is center Nate Thompson. ... Ben Bishop will get the start in net. ... One person who feels lucky to have escaped the morning skate unharmed was goaltenders coach Frantz Jean, who was at the side of the net when a Stamkos slap shot range off the post and deflected right at him. "Oh, my God, how close was that?" Jean said. "It hit my stick. It hit me and went down, If it would have hit it and been up it would have been right at me." ... Defenseman Victor Hedman plays his 300th NHL game tonight and said he agrees with former Lightning coach John Tortorella that it takes that many games for defensemen to understand the game. "The biggest thing for me is consistency in my game," said Hedman, who has 10 goals and 26 points. "I don't have too many down games. That gains you confidence, too, when you feel like you can play your best every night and give yourself a good chance." ... The breakaway on which Nikita Kucherov scored against the Rangers -- which was the winner and was scored nine seconds after Hedman's goal -- was a play specific to facing New York. Kucheov said they hadn't even tried it in practice, though Cooper explained the basic concept during a video session. "Coach showed us on the board what we can do," said Kucherov, who split the Rangers defensemen off the center-ice draw and took a perfect pass from defenseman Radko Gudas. "Guddy told me on the faceoff maybe we could try it. We tried it and it worked."