MONT-TREMBLANT, Quebec — Ryan Malone will be injured at some point this season.
It is inevitable, Lightning coach Guy Boucher said:
"More than any other player on our team, he submits himself to those areas where it hurts. It's impossible to not get injured when you do the things he does."
Boucher meant that as a compliment — "One of the toughest players I've ever met," he said — but there also is this:
In three seasons with Tampa Bay, Malone, due to injuries, has not played more than 70 regular-season games. He played 54 last season because of a nasty groin issue. That's a lot of time for the Lightning to be without its most formidable physical presence, a power forward who is a proven 20-goal scorer.
"It kind of comes with the territory of being older, I guess," Malone said, laughing.
There was no joking around this summer as Malone, 31, with the help of Minnesota-based and former Tampa Bay strength coach Chuck Lobe, changed his workout program to include heavier weights and fewer reps to get stronger — read, more durable — and quicker.
It was a productive offseason, Malone said, despite a three-week break after arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder, injured in the playoffs.
As a precaution, Malone sat out Tampa Bay's first four preseason games. He plays tonight against the Canadiens at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
"You definitely want to take your game to another level," Malone said Wednesday at Mont-Tremblant Arena. "My best years are still in front of me. Over the next couple of years I want to help the team by being more productive, maybe offensively."
Malone, 6 feet 4, 219 pounds, had 14 goals, 24 assists and 38 points last season. Extrapolate that over a full 82 games and it's 21 goals and career bests of 36 assists and 57 points.
More than that, though, Malone sets a physical standard. He is a force in front of the net and along the boards, he hits, and he doesn't mind fighting.
"He's huge," teammate Steven Stamkos said. "We've seen it in glimpses when he's been able to stay healthy. He's a physical force out there. He wants to stand in front of the net on the power play and get those dirty goals and hammer a few guys and get the guys going. He's worked hard this summer. He's ready."
Malone, who in July 2008 signed a seven-year, $31.5 million contract, rarely talks to reporters about his injuries other than to confirm, usually with a shrug, the upper- or lower-body distinction supplied by the team.
But it is known that hip and groin issues and a broken hand slowed him in 2008-09, when he played 70 games and had 26 goals. A knee injury that lingered after Christmas was one reason he played just 69 games in 2009-10. And it wasn't revealed until this summer that Malone played almost the entire playoffs with an injured shoulder.
"It's hockey. You're going to be hurt," Malone said. "If you can skate, you want to be out there. You want to be part of the team."
The good news for the Lightning is Malone is starting the season without nicks.
"From an injury standpoint, he's in the best shape I've seen him in a long time," head athletic trainer Tommy Mulligan said.
Added Boucher: "We'll cross our fingers."