TAMPA — It wasn’t the puck Corey Perry was seeking.
Immediately following a first-period faceoff Oct. 26 against the Penguins, the Lightning forward looked back over his left shoulder as the disc traveled north toward the blue line. Perry was after something — or rather, someone — else.
He sidestepped Brian Boyle and headed straight for Sam Lafferty, shoving the Pittsburgh forward in the chest before dropping his gloves and grabbing the player’s head. Perry repeatedly pounded Lafferty in the ribs until referees separated the two.
Three minutes earlier, Lafferty had slammed Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh into the boards behind the Tampa Bay net. No penalty was called, so McDonagh took matters into his own hands. Still, Perry wanted to make sure Lafferty got the message loud and clear.
It’s moments like this that have endeared Perry to his new teammates after he joined the Lightning in free agency this offseason.
Even though he is without a goal or assist through nine games for the first time in his 17-season career — Perry’s words and actions carry weight. It’s why he’s worn an “A” on his jersey the past three games as an alternate captain.
“He’s not afraid to square up and stick up for his teammates,” linemate Ross Colton said. “That goes a long way coming from a guy like him who’s been in the league for so long, and then you just see the way he carries himself on and off the ice. He does the little things right, and I think that’s why he’s had so much success in this league for such a long time.”
In recent seasons, the Lightning have rotated alternate captaincy between defensemen Victor Hedman and McDonagh and left wing Alex Killorn. Every once in a while, someone else — like left wing Ondrej Palat — has worn the letter. But Perry earning the honor in such a short time is unusual.
“He’s in the gym warming up before every practice, every game, (and) takes really good care of himself,” McDonagh said. “... You just see the way he practices, hard-nosed all the time, full effort, so that kind of energy and his experience just rubs off on our group really well.”
The Lightning have no shortage of veterans. With more than 15 players on their roster at least 27 years old, Tampa Bay is the fifth-oldest team in the league, according to eliteprospects.com. But in less than two months, Perry already has found his voice in the room.
“I’m a quiet guy away from the rink, but once I’m at the rink, I want to win,” Perry said. “If something needs to be said, I’ll say it. I have no problem doing it. That’s kind of the way I’ve always been.”
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Perry’s experience speaks for itself, too. During his 17-season career, he’s won the Stanley Cup (2007 in Anaheim), Hart Memorial (MVP) Trophy (2010-11) and Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy (2010-11) as the league’s top goal-scorer.
“He garners a lot of respect in our team,” coach Jon Cooper said. “He’s earned it. He’s earned it in this league, and he’s already earned it in this room.”
Perry was an alternate captain during five of his 14 seasons in Anaheim. He also wore an “A” during his one year in Montreal (2020-21). No matter the frequency, it’s always meaningful.
“Any time you can wear a letter and be recognized that way,” Perry said, “it’s special.”
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