TAMPA — Lightning LW Jonathan Drouin had just one word to describe his battle with injuries this season.
"Long," he said.
That's why Drouin was excited to return to the lineup Wednesday against the Rangers after having missed the last eight with a lower-body injury.
"It definitely nice to feel good again," Drouin said.
Drouin doesn't anticipate taking a while to get back into his game, having racked up a goal and assist the last time he returned from a lengthy absence, Dec. 2 against Anaheim. Drouin, who has two goals and six assists in 18 games, opened Wednesday on a line with C Brian Boyle and RW Jonathan Marchessault.
"Even when I came back from the other (injury), I felt I was still playing well, still had my jump in my step, which is good," Drouin said. "It's up to me to get it again and I'm sure it'll be fine."
ROSTER CRUNCH: With Drouin back, and LW Ondrej Palat (left ankle) getting closer, that'll make for difficult lineup decisions for coach Jon Cooper. RW Erik Condra was a healthy scratch Wednesday to make room for Drouin.
But when Palat is ready, targeting next week's road trip, Tampa Bay will have 14 healthy forwards, meaning at least two will have to sit (three if Cooper goes with seven defensemen). Marchessault has played his way onto the roster, requiring waivers to get sent to AHL Syracuse.
Would Cooper be comfortable carrying 14 forwards? "That'll be a question for when (Palat) gets back," Cooper said.
Cooper reiterated he'll "play the guys that are going to give us the best chance to win."
"I think a big part of why we have had success is we have had that mentality of what has gone on with our team and it's no different now," Cooper said. "The more players we can have back, the better off we are going to be and it's more about how we are going to execute our game plan."
"D'' ON OFFENSIVE: The Lightning is getting more blueline production, entering Wednesday with six goals in its previous six games, including D Jason Garrison's two in his last two. "It's been big the last couple years having "D' in our attack and being able to contribute," Cooper said. "It's not a coincidence that when they're scoring, we're winning a few of those."
ON TRACK: RW Ryan Callahan hopes his goal Monday, snapping a 22-game drought, will be the start of something. "Once they reviewed it, I was kind of laughing to myself, this thing probably is not going to (count), the way things are going for me," Callahan joked.
NUTS AND BOLTS: G Ben Bishop started, entering Wednesday 9-0 in the regular season against the Rangers. … D Matt Carle returned after being a healthy scratch the past two games. D Nikita Nesterov was scratched. It was surprising to see Cooper break up the Vladislav Namestnikov-Steven Stamkos-Nikita Kucherov line, which had built so much chemistry recently. RW Ryan Callahan started with Stamkos and Namestnikov, Kucherov with C Tyler Johnson and LW Alex Killorn.