TAMPA — There are days, Steven Stamkos admitted, that his right leg still can be painful.
"But not painful that you have to worry about it," the Lightning captain said.
Painful enough, though, that it is a reminder that the fractured right tibia, which sidelined Stamkos for four months, probably won't be completely healed until next season.
Stamkos last week in Toronto even met with his trainer, former Lightning player Gary Roberts, to talk about a summer program to strengthen the leg while limiting some high-impact activities such as the extensive running and sprinting Stamkos usually does.
"I'm going to have to change a few things up," Stamkos, 24, said, "but I'm looking forward to that challenge."
As for the challenge of integrating himself into the lineup after missing 45 games, that could not have gone much better.
After going without a point in his first three games, Stamkos has seven goals (four on the power play) and 10 points in his past seven, including his seventh career hat trick March 19 at Toronto and a baseball-swing goal Monday against the Senators that was the No. 2 play of the day on ESPN's SportsCenter.
Stamkos, at the side of the net, waited for a floating puck to fall below the crossbar before choking up on his stick and bunting it past goalie Robin Lehner.
"That's not a good play," coach Jon Cooper said. "That's an elite play."
Stamkos called it "an instinctual play" and, for a laugh, held a baseball bat on his right shoulder as he answered questions.
Stamkos was a pretty good pitcher and shortstop back in Unionville, Ontario, where he played baseball until he was about 14.
"So, maybe those were baseball instincts," he said. "When you choke up, it gives you a better chance to make contact."
But Cooper saw a hockey play.
"What I liked was he was sniffing around the net," he said. "We get a shot, he wasn't sitting there waiting in his one-time spot (in the left faceoff circle). He was engaged. He had a feel for where the puck would be and was hanging around the doorstep."
Stamkos has scored 21 goals in 27 games this season. Extrapolate that pace over an 82-game season and he scores 64.
His biggest adjustment: playing without longtime linemate Marty St. Louis, who was traded March 5 to the Rangers.
He has been playing with wings Teddy Purcell and Alex Killorn, and that combination is expected to be continue tonight against the Islanders at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
"It's different playing without Marty; let's not kid ourselves," Stamkos said. "When I played with Marty, he was the guy who wanted the puck all the time, and I would do anything I could to get the puck in his hands and then tried to get open. … We were off the rush transition.
"Now, playing with different guys who have different styles, maybe I've got to not be up ice as much. Maybe it's staying a little lower and getting the puck yourself and coming up the ice.
As Killorn said, "He's going to have the puck on his stick a lot more."
The way Stamkos is going, that's not a bad strategy.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]