TAMPA — The mystery surrounding Ryan Callahan's status has been tough for Lightning fans.
It has been even harder on the veteran wing, who missed his 15th consecutive game Saturday against the Hurricanes due to his sore, surgically repaired right hip.
"It's been extremely frustrating," Callahan said. "Four months recovery in the summer, then come back, play 15 games, and out again for a month and a half or so. There have been a lot of ups and downs through the last month and a half."
Callahan last played Nov. 27 against Boston. He said it's possible he returns next week. He skated Saturday with the team for the first time in more than two weeks, and that was encouraging. The key, however, is how his hip responds. And for the past month, he has had too much lingering soreness.
"Obviously you want it back to 100 percent if you've been dealing with it for this long," Callahan said. "If it's bothering me this much, you've got to get it back to where you're not having to worry about it the rest of the season. That's the biggest thing. We thought we were close a couple times."
Callahan had surgery June 21 to repair a torn labrum and was expected to miss five months. He returned a bit earlier, on Oct. 30 against the Rangers. Callahan said subsequent tests on the labrum have been fine. But did he return too soon?
"We've thought about it," Callahan said. "Through tests we ran, talked to the surgeon, everybody was on the same page and thought I was ready to come back. The (Lightning's) schedule has a little bit to do with it, the amount of games we were playing in the short amount of time. It's easy to say I came back too early, but at that point everybody was on board."
SOUND ALARM: C Valtteri Filppula has been to about 1,000 team meetings in his 11-year career. The one Wednesday morning was the only one he can remember missing. That didn't make it acceptable to Filppula, 32, who said he overslept. He was scratched for that night's game against Montreal. "Unfortunately, it happened," Filppula said. "Embarrassing. But nothing I could really do differently. The same alarm has been working 12 years; now it failed me."
HEADS UP: C Vladislav Namestnikov was back after missing Thursday's loss to the Maple Leafs with an upper-body injury. He left Wednesday's game in the third period after his head slammed into the boards on a check by Montreal D Shea Weber. "I didn't have anywhere to go," he said. Namestnikov went through the concussion protocol and was fine.
NUTS AND BOLTS: C Cedric Paquette (lower body) was out again. D Nikita Nesterov was scratched. … C Tyler Johnson was sent home Saturday morning due to illness but played. … Carolina equipment manager Jorge Alves was signed to a pro contract so he could be the backup goalie because usual backup Eddie Lack was sick. Alves, 37, played goalie for N.C. State's club team in 2003-04, and in the ECHL and Southern Professional League. He played the game's last 7.6 seconds. "When I did realize it was going to happen, it was kind of disbelief," he said. "For years it's always been kind of a joke around the locker room that I might go in, and for it to actually happen, that was an amazing experience.
Times staff writer Roger Mooney contributed to this report.