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Lightning journal: Ryan Callahan feels good after first game action since January

Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan (24) pursues Nashville Predators center Colton Sissons (10) during the first period of Friday (9/22/17) preseason game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Nashville Predators at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan (24) pursues Nashville Predators center Colton Sissons (10) during the first period of Friday (9/22/17) preseason game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Nashville Predators at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
Published Sep. 24, 2017

TAMPA — As veteran RW Ryan Callahan was riding a stationary bike before Friday's exhibition game, he felt nervous. There was anxiety.

"I'm like, 'I haven't had this feeling in a while for a preseason game,' " Callahan said.

Callahan, 32, hadn't played in a game since Jan. 7, when his nagging hip issues ended his season. A followup procedure on the surgically repaired labrum had Callahan confident the problem was finally fixed.

But Friday would be his first test.

That's why Callahan was so encouraged after the 3-1 win over the Predators at Amalie Arena. Though he played just 8 minutes, 25 seconds, he said he felt comfortable playing his physical game, delivering two hits, blocking two shots and returning to the penalty kill. He also made a highlight-reel, cross-zone feed to set up Yanni Gourde's goal in the third period.

"I felt good," Callahan said. "I felt like I missed nine months the first period or so. It's just timing, getting your legs. But once I got going, I got more comfortable."

When Callahan was trying to play through the hip injury last season — he was limited to 18 games — coach Jon Cooper remembered the wing getting fatigued often. Not so much Friday.

"He had jump, he had energy," Cooper said.

"I didn't think about my hip or anything when I was out there," Callahan said. "It's a big thing for me to get the first game out of my system, blocking shots, taking some hits, giving some hits. It's a good step."

Making his case

Matt Peca said he didn't read too much into him being the only Lightning player to appear in each of the first three exhibition games. But Peca, 24, loved it.

"Any time you get a game, it's a good thing," he said. "It gives you another chance to go out there and do your thing."

Peca has done just that, the 5-foot-8 center making an intriguing case to make the opening-night roster. Peca impressed in a 10-game callup last season, and he has gotten better each preseason game, coach Jon Cooper said. Peca won nine of 10 faceoffs Friday, a skill the Lightning badly needs.

"To be honest, he looks faster," Cooper said. "He's doing exceptional on the faceoff circle. Just his effort level and everything has been elite since he's been in training camp.

"He's just one of those guys you can put on the penalty kill, the power play, can take the big draw. You need all those things to find your niche, and he's doing that right now."

Camp cuts

The Lightning made 10 more cuts Saturday, trimming the roster to 44. G Connor Ingram, D Matt Spencer, D Mat Bodie and F Alex Gallant were sent to AHL Syracuse. F Shane Conacher (brother of F Cory Conacher), F Kevin Lynch and D Reid McNeil were released from their tryouts. F Otto Somppi was reassigned to his junior team (Halifax, QMJHL.

Nuts and bolts

The Lightning had a scheduled off-ice team activity Saturday. It returns to action today against the Panthers (4 p.m.), the final home exhibition game. … Lightning alumni play the U.S. women's team after today's game in a free exhibition. … D Victor Hedman, a huge soccer fan, served as the official captain for Saturday's Rowdies game at Al Lang Stadium.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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