PRAGUE, Czech Republic — Vinny Lecavalier said he doesn't know what to expect when his right shoulder is crunched into the boards for the first time.
Will it hurt? Will it tingle? Will he bounce off the wall and feel as if everything is back to normal?
Whatever happens, the Lightning's All-Star center, rehabbing from arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn glenoid labrum, wants to get it over with. And the sooner the better.
"It's a mental thing," he said Saturday at O2 Arena. "It doesn't feel 100 percent, but that's how it's going to be. I'm not going to be negative about it. I practiced the last month. Now I'm going to take it to another level."
That happens today when Tampa Bay plays an exhibition in Germany against the Berlin Eisbarens. If he has no ill effects, Lecavalier will play Tuesday in Slovakia in another exhibition and could be ready for the season opener Oct. 4 in Prague against the Rangers.
Considering that Lecavalier said the shoulder still is sore, he probably will have to tolerate some pain.
"It doesn't feel 100 percent, but that's how it's going to be," Lecavalier said. "The doctor said every month it's going to feel better and better, and maybe by the middle of the season I won't feel it at all."
Washington's Matt Cook was fined $2,500 by the league for the hit that also dislocated Lecavalier's shoulder last season. It took five-plus months after surgery for Lecavalier to be cleared for contact.
Asked what he is looking for from his captain, coach Barry Melrose said simply, "That he doesn't get hurt."
While that is paramount, it is not exclusive.
"We want him to get in game shape," Melrose said. "He was laughing on the bench. He said, 'You know, I want to do stuff, but it's happening so fast.' It's just a case of getting used to the speed of the game. He's in good shape. He feels strong, but no matter how much you practice, you just can't simulate the speed and intensity of a game."
"But that's like every year for my first game," Lecavalier said. "Now I only have two games (before the season starts), so every time I go to the bench, I'll say, 'Okay, this time I'll keep my head up a little quicker, look around, be aware, make that first pass a little quicker.' ... You just try to slow things down on the ice, slow the play in your head. That's when you get success."
The Lightning could use a shot of Lecavalier's offensive intensity. The team was outshot 87-43 the past two games, and Melrose and vice president of hockey operations Brian Lawton criticized the players for being weak on the puck and "on their heels."
With the reunification of the MVP line of Lecavalier, Vinny Prospal and Marty St. Louis, Tampa Bay gains one of the league's top offensive threats.
Melrose said Lecavalier likely won't be at his best: "Vinny will know where to go and what to do. But whereas during the regular season he'll snap it in, now the puck might roll off his stick."
The line might not immediately click, either.
"We've got to get some games under our belts," Prospal said.
And Lecavalier has to take a hit.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.