TAMPA — Lightning center Jussi Jokinen has a new role model.
Asked about linemate Mark Recchi, who at 40 is playing a younger game than many of his teammates, Jokinen, a relative pup at 25, said, "It's very impressive. I hope I can be in that kind of shape when I'm 40."
"It's only a number to me," Recchi said. "I feel good."
And he has played great. On a team struggling offensively, Recchi has provided a spark. On a team that has lacked energy, Recchi's legs keep churning.
The right wing has five goals, including the tying tally in the last minute of the third period Wednesday against the Rangers. His 14 points are third on the team, and his average 16:34 of ice time is fifth among forwards.
Not bad for the second-oldest player to hit the ice in the league this season, behind 42-year-old teammate Gary Roberts.
"We haven't had a lot of pluses this year, but he's been one of them," coach Rick Tocchet said. "He's done everything we've asked. He's a great locker-room guy, an unselfish guy. He's a pleasure to coach and be around."
It wasn't necessarily supposed to be this way. Recchi, signed to a one-year free-agent contract that could pay $1.5-million with bonuses, said he was unsure how he would fit in.
He was told he might not always play, and there was no guarantee of ice time. But he did get a chance.
Recchi has gotten stronger during the season, playing fewer than 16 minutes only three times in his past 16 games, with four goals and 13 points. He kills penalties, goes to the net and has won a spot on the power play.
He also has found chemistry with Jokinen.
"That's huge," Recchi said. "He's a smart player. He's always around me. You know where he is. He makes things easy."
Bottom line, though, "I just wanted to come through and help. I didn't want to come here and be someone not helping the team. When the coach gives you a responsibility, you want to prove it. You want to do well and help your teammates."
That after a summer in which Recchi helped himself.
The native of Kamloops, British Columbia, with 527 career goals and in his 20th season, said he reduced the upper-body work that had been a staple of his summer conditioning program to concentrate on his core and legs.
He said he added yoga and Pilates to plyometrics and other "explosive" lower-body workouts. It shows. Recchi, 19th all time with 1,395 points, is one of the team's quickest skaters.
To keep him fresh, Tocchet, and former coach Barry Melrose before him, allows Recchi "body maintenance," in which he skips practices here and there and works out in the fitness center.
"It's an 82-game schedule, and I don't want to burn him out," Tocchet said. "We'll monitor it. But how do you monitor it? He still keeps plugging out there, so we'll keep playing him."
"He can pass, he can shoot, he can skate, he can hit," Jokinen said. "He can play defense. He can play offense. He's been one of our best players."
What else would one expect of a role model?