TAMPA — Steven Stamkos, out with a broken right leg, created a minor stir last week when he went on the Tampa Bay Times Forum ice — in sneakers and standing on a wooden board for traction — and shot some pucks.
"I just wanted to go out and get a feel for the stick," Stamkos said. "I miss it after a while."
A month into his rehabilitation from the Nov. 11 injury, Stamkos sounds as if he is looking for any kind of diversion.
"It's a little bit of a Groundhog Day," he said. "The first two weeks you're excited, you're coming to the rink, you're seeing a lot of progression. Now it's kind of a daily thing when we're doing a lot of the same exercises and stuff. It gets tough coming to the rink and not being able to go on the ice.
"As much as it hurts me to say this, you miss practicing, and you miss skating, and you miss those days when it's a tough practice."
How much has the Lightning missed Stamkos, who had 14 goals in 17 games? With the center in the lineup, it was 12-5-0 and averaging 3.1 goals per game. Without him, it is 5-5-2 and averaging 2.1 goals. If not for some spectacular goaltending — especially by Ben Bishop, but including Anders Lindback — the results might have been a lot worse.
Ideally, Stamkos would love to be healthy in time to play for Canada at the Olympics on Feb. 7-23 in Sochi, Russia; Canada's first game is Feb. 13 against Norway. That has prompted speculation that Stamkos is focused on a Feb. 6 return to the Lightning, which would give him two games before the NHL's Olympic break.
"I won't be playing in the Olympics if I'm not 100 percent. That's something I've said since Day 1," Stamkos said. "At the end of the day, you have to look at the long-term health and look at the team here in Tampa that I want to help win a championship."
Whenever Stamkos returns, he said it will be with a greater appreciation for his profession.
"Now that I've gone through this, you definitely have a different outlook," Stamkos said. "You should be just happy and blessed you are out there being able to do what you love to do.
"It's the old saying: You don't know what you have till it's gone. I think I've gotten to that stage now. You have to remind yourself it's going to be a long road. You just have to work hard and keep focused and do what you can."
GUDAS GOES: Under the radar during Saturday's 2-1 overtime loss to the Jets was D Radko Gudas' effort in helping set up the Lightning's only goal.
Scored by C Nate Thompson with 1.1 seconds left in the second period to tie the score, it might not have happened had Gudas not skated hard to reach the dots in the Tampa Bay zone to create an icing. That prompted a faceoff in the Winnipeg zone with 2.6 seconds remaining.
"The ref was counting, and I heard 'five,' and the puck was crossing the (goal) line, so I just started skating," Gudas said. "They called icing; we had a little faceoff. See what happens?" Gudas assisted on the goal, too.
ETC.: Even with its current struggles, the Lightning's 17 wins and 36 points are team records after 29 games.