TAMPA — G Dan Ellis entered Saturday's start against the Panthers eager for the opportunity.
"It's been a while," he said.
Ellis hadn't started in nine days, but he played well in the Lightning's 4-3 shootout loss, stopping 24 shots through overtime and the Panthers' first three shootout attempts.
He was understanding about the layoff. Mike Smith was hot during the Lightning's recent five-game winning streak.
"There's no sense taking him out if we're going to keep rattling off wins," Ellis said. "It's best to keep the hot hand in there and ride it out until it changes.
"When you get that opportunity, you can either sit or get upset and worry about those things, or you can take advantage of that time and get better and work on little areas of your game that may be a little weaker."
Ellis worked, saying it was perfect timing that Lightning goaltending consultant Frantz Jean arrived back in Tampa as he began his time on the bench.
Ellis, 30 and in his fourth full NHL season, said he worked on his conditioning, his technique on tight plays and shots from between the hash marks, "those quick transitions with your feet, when you're down trying to seal the ice and weigh percentages and take away the biggest portion of the net and not get out of control and not be reaching or learning forward. You have to keep your body under control."
Ellis has seen action in 14 of the team's 24 games after signing a two-year deal in the offseason.
MEDICAL MATTERS: LW Simon Gagne (neck strain) was the last player off the ice for Saturday morning's optional skate, doing extra skating while wearing a red (noncontact) jersey.
"I think it's been so long I'm wearing the red jersey, I think the trainers just put the red jersey (out) every practice," he joked.
But after missing 18 games, Gagne said he's getting "really close to 100 percent." Gagne said the big test will be this week's road trip, when he'll get a chance to participate in practices Monday and Wednesday, giving him a better read on when he'll be able to return.
The team's recent schedule worked against Gagne, with few practices and mostly morning skates, which are "not even close to a game, and not even close to a practice," he said.
"By yourself on the ice is one thing, feeling good shooting the puck, but when I go with boys on the ice, it's a little bit more difficult," he said. "So having a good practice will help me get closer to playing a game."
The good news for Gagne and the Lightning is Gagne said the pressure he was feeling in the front of his head after workouts has greatly improved.
odds and ends: D Mathieu Roy was a healthy scratch. … The Lightning lost for the first time when leading after two periods, dropping to 10-0-1. … The game was Tampa Bay's first shootout of the season.
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.