TAMPA — Lightning C Steven Stamkos jokingly called the yellow practice jersey "caution," like the traffic light.
But Stamkos was happy to move from the red (no-contact) jersey to the yellow (light contact) during Saturday's morning skate as it's another step in his recovery from a broken right tibia. He did some pushing along the boards with RW Marty St. Louis, playfully knocking the captain to the ice.
While the color change put Stamkos closer to his goal of returning for one of the home games (Feb. 6 or Feb. 8) before the Olympic break, coach Jon Cooper urged caution.
"There's still lots of things that have to go on," Cooper said. "He is still a ways away from being cleared (for full contact). It's just the process that is slowly going on here. But in saying that, I think when you take the minimum/maximum of what the injury was, he's closer to coming in at the minimum time frame than the maximum time frame."
Stamkos, who was unavailable for comment, sustained the injury Nov. 11 against the Bruins. At the time, he was expected to miss three to six months.
He had practiced in the red jersey since Jan. 2 but got the go-ahead to switch after an encouraging X-ray Thursday. GM Steve Yzerman said team medical director Ira Guttentag instructed Stamkos "to pick up the workload a little bit and see how it responds."
Cooper pointed out that Stamkos has yet to engage in battles in the corner, though that could start in a more "energized" Monday practice.
"Then there's always the mental part of it because you can't go into a corner being afraid to get hurt or hit or anything like that," Cooper said. "So those are other hurdles that he will have to overcome here soon."
HEDMAN SNUBBED: It was surprising to many analysts that Lightning D Victor Hedman was left off Sweden's Olympic team, especially considering he's having the best season of his career. Then Sweden announced he wasn't even on the reserve list. "It's almost so ridiculous," NHL Network analyst Craig Button said. "It's funny. It's like they've secured documentation that he's really not Swedish."
NO PANIK: Cooper said rookie RW Richard Panik's demotion to AHL Syracuse on Friday was "by no means a permanent thing." But with the Lightning closer to full strength, his playing time has dwindled (a healthy scratch for the past two games and five of the past seven). And it wants him to get more action before the Olympics. "Instead of sitting in the stands here for the next week," Cooper said, "why not go play the power play, play penalty kill, five-on-five and get your mojo back?"
Miscellany: With an assist Saturday, RW Marty St. Louis extended his points streak to 10 games, the league's longest active one. … G Ben Bishop made 25 saves for his 26th win. … D Victor Hedman racked up three assists, tying a career high, and has six over his past two games. … The Lightning remained tied for first with the Bruins in the Atlantic Division. … D Jean-Philippe Cote and C Tom Pyatt were scratched.