TAMPA—Andrei Vasilevskiy was on the ice for Saturday's optional morning skate, his first practice since fracturing his foot three weeks ago.
It's a welcome sign of progress for the Lightning and its fans, but it is only the first step. This is the start of a process for Vasilevskiy to return to the lineup.
Coach Jon Cooper said nothing has changed in terms of the original timeline for Vasilevskiy to return. When Vasilevskiy fractured his foot ahead of the Lightning's game against Pittsburgh on Nov. 15, the Lightning said he was expected to miss four to six weeks. He is coming up on four weeks this Thursday, so it will more likely be the five to six side of the range.
Vasilevskiy did not speak to the media after skating Saturday morning.
"The one thing it says is I can't believe how four weeks have just blown by like that," Cooper said. "But it is exciting for the players individually. They are just tough injuries. When you are recovering and you are not allowed to be on the ice, I think the days get long. The rehabs get long. Any little time you are on the ice, it gives you that feel that 'hey, I'm getting closer.'"
The Lightning would, of course, love to have its star goalie back, but it hasn't exactly been struggling without him. Tampa Bay is 10-2 since Vasilevskiy got hurt. Louis Domingue, his backup, has started in net for nine of those games. Eddie Pasquale picked up the other victory in his first NHL start.
Stralman skates, too
D Anton Stralman has missed 14 games prior because of an undisclosed "upper-body" injury.
He also skated on Saturday morning, though. It's a good sign, but Stralman's return is not imminent. Stralman is set to be re-evaluated again on Dec. 12.
Stralman said skating Saturday was fun but hard. Then a grin spread across his face as he began to put into words how missing 14 games had affected him on the ice.
"You lose it fast," he said.
Despite that realization, he added that it's good for his mental health to get back out onto the ice even if his return is not imminent.
"When you are recovering and you are not allowed to be on the ice, I think the days get long," Cooper said. "The rehab gets long. Any little time you are on the ice, it gives you that feel that 'hey, I'm getting closer.'"
Stralman was not ready to say how close he is. He, of course, does not want to rush it, risking re-injury. He returned to practice once previously, after missing two games, but only skated a couple of times.
"It is definitely healing," Stralman said. "We are trying to push it a little more every day. So far so good."
The play of rookie defenseman Erik Cernak has also allowed Stralman to take his time and not rush back. Cernak logged a season-high 21:55 minutes against Detroit on Dec. 4. He also ranks second on the Lightning with 3.1 hits per game and has tallied four assists. He also has a plus-seven in 13 games played this season.
"He is handling it really well for not having experience and being a young guy," Stralman said. "It's definitely a tough situation to be in and he's handled it really well."