VANCOUVER — There was nothing fancy about the way Ryan Malone won the Lightning's shootout competition at the end of Tuesday's practice; the wrist shot past goaltender Ben Bishop was a testament to the left wing's mantra to keep things simple.
"Come on back and show them how it's done," Malone said. "It's been a while since I won one of those."
It was a small moment, really. But it was the latest sign Malone is ready to return to action, and he was in the lineup Wednesday night against the Canucks at Rogers Arena after missing 16 games with a chipped bone in his right ankle.
With just three goals and nine points in 23 games and having lost his place on the power play, it has been a difficult season offensively for Malone, hurt Nov. 22 blocking a shot against the Ducks.
But Malone brings intangibles the Lightning has lacked.
"An element we've probably lacked is size and strength," coach Jon Cooper said. "He's got a little nastiness to him. We've probably lacked that a little bit. Teams with bigger, stronger defensemen, he can be able to handle them a little bit. We've missed him, so it's good to have him back."
For Malone, 34, who entered Wednesday averaging 13:26 of ice time, the most difficult part of his rehabilitation was trying to keep up his conditioning.
Watching games while the Lightning's injury list grew and while the team tried to regain its footing after losing star Steven Stamkos to a broken leg was a bit easier because Tampa Bay continued to win.
"That makes it a lot easier," Malone said. "If the team was really struggling, it would be definitely harder to sit on the sidelines. But for the most part, they're getting the job done, and that's what matters. Winning is the solution for everything. Hopefully, we keep it going."
It will be interesting to see how Cooper integrates Malone, 6 feet 4, 224 pounds, back into the lineup. He has not had a settled position this season, largely because of his inconsistent offense, and during Wednesday's morning skate he was on the fourth line.
Wherever he ended up, his bottom line remained the same.
"He's a big body, and he's a physical presence," captain Marty St. Louis said. "It means a lot" to have him back.
As for his shootout prowess, that still is open to debate.
Even Malone, who hasn't participated in the game-ending gimmick since the 2011-12 season, joked about his strategy during Tuesday's practice.
"Make sure you take the goalies to lunch or dinner the night before," he said. "It helps."