"Ryan Malone is on the ice; that's a good step," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "That's the second step. Off-ice he's doing really well and we'll get him ready on-ice, and I'm sure we'll see him soon. Soon is not tonight. It's hard to say when he'll be back. He's got a few days to work with the therapist, and after that we'll get him in a real practice. Step three in the recovery will be an actual game. I wouldn't say he's three weeks away, but it's not today or the next game."
As Malone, who has missed eight games with a lower-body injury, works toward a return, Boucher faces an interesting dilemma when it comes to finding a spot for him.
"I really like the lines I've got now, but what it does is it creates depth," Boucher said. "Everyone knows in this League that's what it's about. It's very difficult to get depth, but right now when we look at guys like (Alexander) Killorn and (Richard) Panik coming in, obviously (Cory) Conacher coming in, (Benoit) Pouliot doing so well, our depth is well on its way. We know there are a lot of guys in the American Hockey League knocking on the door too. We're slowly going to the direction that we were hoping for three years ago.
"Our guys, Killorn, Panik and Conacher have really progressed fast. When you look at what they were doing in the AHL, they were dominating down there. Killorn and Panik were dominating, and we knew it was just a matter of time before we had to bring them up, and then you're hoping from there that one, they can get on the ice, and second step, they are able to contribute, and third step, contribute so well and consistently, like they are doing right now. They've done that very, very fast, so it's good to see that."
For his part, Malone is just pleased to be back in step with his teammates.
"It's just exciting to get back on the ice with the other guys," Malone said. "You always want to feel like part of the team and we were on different schedules, so it's nice to be out there with the guys."
Malone acknowledged that he's not ready for game action, but he thinks the time is near.
"My limitation on the ice right now?" he said. "None. Just wear a big, bright orange jersey."
Scratched: Brian Lee
Injured: Ryan Malone