By JOE SMITH
EDMONTON — There weren’t many veterans on the ice for the Lightning’s optional skate Monday, but it was a good sign that Dan Girardi was one of them.
The veteran defenseman has missed the past two games with a lower-body injury suffered Jan. 30 against Winnipeg. While Girardi was out Monday night against the Oilers, the first on-ice workout appeared encouraging.
Girardi hopes he can return this week, Tampa Bay playing next on Thursday, but he won’t rush it.
"I’ll be back as soon as possible, but I’ve got to make sure everything feels right," Girardi said. "Especially this time of year, it’s a tough time of year, want to make sure everything is feeling good going into the playoffs. Don’t want anything nagging going into playoff time."
While Tampa Bay came into Monday’s game having won five of seven on this telling, eight-game road trip, it doesn’t feel like it has been winning the right way. Coach Jon Cooper met with his veteran leadership group Monday morning, which he typically does to help get the staff’s message through to the rest of the team.
What was the message?
"The biggest thing is we need to play for the right net," Girardi said. "We’ve got to take care of our net first. We’re a good team up front and have a lot of skill. And if we play good defense we’ll get offensive chances. We had a 3-0 lead in Vancouver (Saturday) and gave up 17 shots in the third. That’s not a shutdown period. At that point, this time of year, that needs to be a lockdown period — they get nothing, make them earn every inch of that ice, 200 feet. We didn’t do that. We were playing loose, and not really taking care of our own end. We need to get back to playing real structured defensive game, that playoff hockey."
The Rangers, Blue Jackets and Red Wings were among the teams represented at Monday’s Lightning game. Those teams have potential defense targets for Tampa Bay, including the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh and the Red Wings’ Mike Green. The Islanders, Vegas (two), Leafs, Flyers, Jets and Islanders also had scouts there. The Lightning had a scout at the Rangers game in Dallas.
What they’re saying
"She knows she won’t be kissing me for a little while. She’s just glad I didn’t lose any teeth."
Cory Conacher on how his wife, Shannon, likes his new look of six stitches on his upper lip, thanks to a high stick Saturday.
• When the Lightning retires Vinny Lecavalier’s No. 4 Saturday before the game against the Kings, several former teammates will attend (Marty St. Louis, Brad Richards, Freddy Modin and Andre Roy). Richards, former GM Jay Feaster and founder Phil Esposito will have a speaking role.
• Oilers C Mark Letestu could be the kind of veteran bottom-six center the Lightning is looking for at the deadline. Or the Wild’s Matt Cullen and the Ducks’ Antoine Vermette.
• The Lightning went with the same lineup of 11 forwards and seven defensemen, with Michael Bournival and Cedric Paquette scratched and Andrei Vasilevskiy in net.