TAMPA — Lightning star center Steven Stamkos didn't practice Monday, but said it wasn't a setback.
Rather, Stamkos called it a "smart decision."
Stamkos, rehabbing a broken right tibia, planned to practice, but felt soreness while skating briefly before the team did. So he decided to "err on the side of caution" and have an off-ice workout instead.
But considering Stamkos' so-far speedy recovery, it was disappointing to the All-Star, who needs all the practice he can get if he hopes to play next week for Tampa Bay or in the Olympics for Team Canada.
"Whenever it doesn't feel good, it's a little frustrating," Stamkos said. "It's been tough, the days it doesn't feel good, especially after the strides that I've taken and how good I felt on the ice the other day. But you have to be smart with this. I thought (Monday) was a smart decision and we'll see how it feels (today)."
Coach Jon Cooper reiterated Stamkos is still "way ahead of the curve" in coming back from an injury suffered Nov. 11. Stamkos' X-ray Thursday was encouraging, and he had begun practicing in a yellow (light contact) jersey Saturday.
"Everything is going as planned," Cooper said.
Cooper said the only way Monday could be called a setback was if Stamkos couldn't join the Lightning on its four-game trip, starting tonight in Toronto. But Stamkos is with the team, and his every move will be under a major media microscope in the three Canadian cities where the Lightning will travel.
"Of course it's a bigger story because there's a deadline," Stamkos said. "If there wasn't, I'm sure we wouldn't be having as many conversations as we are. Usually when you're hurt you come back whenever you feel ready. We are pushing it a little because of the magnitude of the Olympics and me wanting to come back and play before. That's an ideal situation. If it doesn't happen, then that's something the management staff of Team Canada and I are going to have to chat about whether or not it's in the best interest of me or the team to go over there. We haven't had that discussion yet.
"We're still planning on hopefully being able to play before the Olympic break. That's where the mind-set is right now."
"He has increased the intensity of his rehab recently," Lightning (and Team Canada) general manager Steve Yzerman wrote in a text message. "He has some soreness so he's just being cautious."
Stamkos reiterated he has had more good days than bad in his aggressive rehab, and is ahead of where a lot of people thought he'd be at this point of the recovery, which is usually estimated at 3-6 months. Stamkos is ready for the expected barrage of questions this week.
"It's going to come up until he plays his first game, and then it's going to come up even more than that because he'll be bombarded with, 'How does it feel?' " Cooper said. "And he'll be dissected about every ounce, how he plays. It's unfortunate because he's Steven Stamkos, the eyes are going to be on him even more than anybody else. But the only concern we have is his health and we're going to get him back this season. I just don't know when."
Stamkos said his participation in the morning skate in Toronto depends on how he feels.
"Hopefully," Stamkos said, "(today) is a good day."
MINOR MATTERS: LW Ondrej Palat left practice early after getting hit in the ear with the puck, but is okay, Cooper said.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TBTimes_JSmith.