NEW YORK — RW Ryan Callahan, a former Rangers captain, made his anticipated season debut Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
"Ironic," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
Callahan, sidelined since June 21 hip surgery, returned a bit ahead of schedule in an anticipated five-month recovery period. And he wasn't the only Tampa Bay regular to return against the Rangers. RW Nikita Kucherov was back in the lineup after missing one game with an upper-body injury suffered Thursday in Montreal.
With those two ready, F Cory Conacher was reassigned to AHL Syracuse.
Callahan, who said he's "back to normal," returned to his usual role, with three hits in 12:17 of playing time, and as a key cog on the penalty kill.
"Physically my hip and everything felt great, no issues at all," Callahan said. "The timing is going to take a little bit, but that's expected."
Callahan rarely felt normal last season. The hip injury bothered him for a good portion of the year, including the playoffs. The labral tear affected his ability to quickly change direction, a burst that's important to his game.
"I definitely feel so much different on the ice than I did at the end of last year," Callahan said. "You go through a nagging injury … to have that gone and going into a new season fresh and feeling like yourself, it's exciting. Being out there now, it's like night and day. Surgery definitely worked."
ON POINT: Many wondered what would happen to rookie F Brayden Point once Callahan returned and the team was fully healthy.
An answer came Sunday. Point was still in the lineup, in the top six with C Tyler Johnson and LW Ondrej Palat. RW J.T. Brown was a healthy scratch. That says a lot about how the Lightning feels about Point, a 20-year-old who played in his 10th NHL game.
Point makes the team better and is contributing, so it's hard to take him out of the lineup, much less send him to Syracuse. Point entered Sunday with four points (all assists) and was plus-3 in eight games. Point was a minus-3 in Sunday's 6-1 loss to the Rangers, but he wasn't alone.
JUST PLAY: The Lightning has lamented its many slow starts this season, giving up the first goal in six of its first nine games, including Sunday. But Cooper indicated that a routine change isn't the answer; the answer must come from the players.
"These guys are pros. They know how to prepare themselves," Cooper said. "And it just can't be game on, game off, on-off, on-off. Especially in this league, when you have the lead, the percentages of you winning a hockey game are much better than not. We got a little lucky early in the year coming back. That's not the recipe."
NUTS AND BOLTS: RW Jonathan Drouin played in his 100th career game. … D Matt Taormina was a healthy scratch. … The team is off today.