TAMPA — As the Lightning took the ice Monday morning at Amalie Arena for their first practice since returning from their West Coast trip, they welcomed back two familiar faces.
Center Anthony Cirelli and defenseman Zach Bogosian, both working their way back from offseason shoulder surgery, were full participants for the first time this season. They wore red non-contact jerseys but skated in every drill, taking their next step toward a return that’s still expected to be several weeks from now.
“It’s more just the skating, get the legs going, the conditioning aspect of it, getting up and down the ice,” Cirelli said. “Just trying to be crisp in your passes and all that basic kind of skills, just going out there and executing them at a faster speed, obviously, with a bunch of guys out there.
“That’s part of the main thing is just going out there and kind of just feeling the puck a bit and going through some drills, but it’s obviously a little different without the whole physical aspect of the game.”
Their injuries, surgeries and recoveries were similar, so Cirelli and Bogosian essentially have had the same rehabilitation schedule. While they enjoyed each other’s company, being back on the ice with the team was a welcome change.
“It gets a little monotonous when you’re just skating, me and Tony every day, so just to get some more bodies on the ice and feel the energy of the team is nice,” Bogosian said. “Being out there with the guys, messing around and laughing and joking, that’s why you play the game, all the guys in the room. So once you’re out there with all of them, it makes for a lot of joy for me.”
Neither player is expected to be ready until late November at the earliest, with head coach Jon Cooper saying Bogosian is slightly ahead of Cirelli, whose return likely will be closer to mid-December. Despite wearing a no-contact jersey, Bogosian couldn’t help but seek some contact in his first full-team practice of the season.
“My job is to get as ready as possible as early as possible,” he said. “I mean, I want to play games. So, you know, I’ll listen to the trainers and they’ll give me kind of the game plan, and usually I’m a guy who tends to push those boundaries sometimes.
“So, I don’t know if I was supposed to have any contact (Monday), but I found myself somehow making a little bit. It’s gonna happen, obviously, with a lot of guys out there. So it feels good. Just kind of take it day by day and keep climbing.”
The practice was fast-paced. Cirelli swapped in on the bottom two forward lines and filled in on the penalty kill. Bogosian skated on the first defense pair, filling in for Victor Hedman, who did not skate. Cooper said Hedman, who missed four shifts in the first period of Saturday’s win in San Jose but returned without incident, should play in Tuesday’s game against the Senators.
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As for the Lightning as a group, they finally can settle in for an extended amount of time at home. Last season, Tampa Bay was the fourth-best team in the Eastern Conference at home, posting 60 points, and was 8-3 at Amalie in the postseason.
After relocating training camp to Nashville due to Hurricane Ian and playing 11 of their first 14 games, including the preseason, away from Tampa, the Lightning will play nine of their next 11 through Thanksgiving weekend at home.
“You can’t sit here and hang your hat that we’re at home and things are gonna go well,” Cooper said. “But it’s nice to be at home, sleep in our own beds for a while. I think twice in the last little while, all I did was take clothes out of a suitcase and put clothes in the suitcase. I was putting nothing away, because we’ve just been on the road so much. So it’ll be nice to be in comfortable surroundings for the next little while.”
The Lightning are coming off a West Coast trip in which they netted four of a possible six points. They’ve won four of their last five overall, with three of those wins on the road. In their last two games, victories at Anaheim and San Jose, Tampa Bay rallied to win after relinquishing third-period leads.
“I think it would really be nice if we could string some wins together,” forward Pat Maroon said. “I think it’s important. But I think the most important thing is kind of building our identity. I think we’ve been lacking that a little bit, maybe. I think this last (game), we put a good effort.
“Now, we’ve got to find a way to keep really good efforts down and keep building our game and find ways to make it difficult on teams and kind of getting that swagger back.”
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