TAMPA — The Lightning opens training camp today at the Tampa Bay Times Forum with players needing to be aggressive, yet careful.
They have to push to make the most of a six-day camp leading to Saturday's season opener against the Capitals, but not hard enough to cause injuries.
Every season has a version of that scenario. But this season it is exacerbated because the short camp with zero exhibition games bumps up against what should be a torrid, lockout-shortened 48-game season in which a fast start is imperative.
"The consensus in the league is everyone is concerned about injuries," Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said.
The problem areas will be groins, backs and hip flexors as players exert themselves in ways most have not since last season.
Players who played in Europe or the minor leagues during the 113-day lockout might have an advantage, but most did not.
A core group of Tampa Bay players skated three times a week at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon after the lockout began in September. But even they said the pace and intensity were nothing like a training camp.
"It's obviously a little bit of a worry," said center Steven Stamkos, who spent most of his time in Toronto working with trainer (and former Lightning player) Gary Roberts. "You've got to try to be careful and maintain your body through the next week. Usually in camp you have your fitness-testing day. You have a couple of conditioning days to get your legs back, but we don't have time to do that."
Coach Guy Boucher said camp will mostly be about scrimmaging, which will stress players' bodies even more.
"Keep in mind these guys have been liked caged animals for the past four months," head athletic trainer Tommy Mulligan said. "Just the normal competitive nature of them, the intensity they're going to want to hit the ice with on Day 1 is going to be that much higher. You just want to rein that in a little bit so they don't overdue it and hurt themselves early on."
Is that practical? Defenseman Sami Salo, who is 38 and has battled injuries his whole career, said no. "I don't think anybody is really going to be holding back," he said. "Everybody wants to push themselves to the limit. That's the only way you're going to be ready is to mimic a game."
Said goaltender Mathieu Garon: "I want to push as hard as I can." Garon, 35, will be interesting to watch. He is coming off last season's torn groin.
"Knock on wood, but I've been active for the past six months, and I've been skating three times a week and in the gym pretty much every day," he said. "I'm not worried about it."
Other Lightning players to keep an eye on:
• Goalie Anders Lindback, who needed six stitches last month to close a right-knee cut sustained while playing in Finland.
• Defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, who hasn't played since Feb. 7 because of a bad back that needed surgery.
• Right wing Dana Tyrell, who hasn't played an NHL game in a year because of a second surgery on his right knee.
There are precautions. Defenseman Matt Carle said doing what he calls "prehab" warmups is key, as are drinking lots of fluids, spending time in the cold tub after workouts and getting proper rest.
"And everybody being aware, especially the players," Mulligan said. "If they do feel something coming on, whereas a lot of times they'll say, 'It will go away,' make us aware and get on it and treat it early."
"We have to make sure we're ready from a team perspective," Stamkos said. "We can't afford to start slow."