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Morning Skate: Ryan Callahan returns to Bolts lineup tonight

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

Right winger Ryan Callahan will make his return to the Tampa Bay lineup when the Lightning go head-to-head with the Washington Capitals at Amalie Arena Saturday night.

Callahan hasn’t played since leaving midway through the Bolts’ loss in Edmonton, missing five-straight games with a lower-body injury.

At Saturday’s morning skate, Callahan appeared ready to go, combining with Steven Stamkos and Valtteri Filppula on the Bolts’ top line. Alex Killorn, who had been skating with the Stamkos-Filppula line, was seen on the right wing with Vladislav Namestnikov (center) and Jonathan Drouin (left wing) Saturday morning.

“Everything’s good,” Callahan said. “Got the green light to go, so playing tonight.”

It’s been a week-and-a-half since Callahan last saw action for the Lightning. After putting in a hard skate Wednesday, he took a planned day off Thursday and used Friday’s optional skate day to get on the ice and test himself.

“You just want to get out there,” he said. “But, you’ve got to take your time with injuries and make sure you’re ready to come back. I feel good now and ready to go.”

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said Callahan adds more than just an offensive presence, although the 29-year-old Rochester, N.Y., native has scored three goals and collected two assists (five points) in six games.

“Callahan’s a heavier body, plays hard,” Cooper said. “I think when we lost (Callahan) and (Brown) and (Killorn), Connolly, those guys up front, you lost guys that -- corner men I guess you want to call them -- guys that play in the blue paint, so we were lacking that. Now, we’re slowly getting them back and that helps because that’he's a part of our game we were kind of missing.”

Entering the second month of the season, the Lightning are finally starting to get healthy again after losing so many valuable players on the five-game-in-ten-days Western Canada/Minnesota road trip. In addition to Callahan, the Lightning were forced to play at times without Radko Gudas, Alex Killorn, J.T. Brown and Brett Connolly, not to mention star defenseman Victor Hedman, who exited the victory in Vancouver after getting hit in the hand with a puck, requiring surgery on a fractured finger and forcing the 6-foot-6 Swede out for four to six weeks of the season.

Of those injured, only Hedman and Connolly (lower-body injury) remained sidelined with Callahan’s return against Washington.

“It was a tough road trip for sure,” Callahan said. “We had guys going down in every game it seemed like. Starting to get our lineup back, it’s really big. I think the biggest thing is while guys were out, we were winning games. In this league to have success, that’s what you have to do is win games when guys are out.”

Since the rash of injuries beset the Bolts starting in Vancouver, the Lightning still managed to compile a 5-2-0 record, including the victory over the Canucks.

The Lightning finished October 7-3-1 and with 15 points, good for second place in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference behind Montreal (17 points). The Bolts have the third-most points in the NHL.

“I think toward the end of (October), we become a little more consistent, and that’s what we want to see heading into (November),” Stamkos said.

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

Tampa Bay hasn’t defeated Washington at Amalie Arena since the 2012-13 season opener on January 19, 2013, a 6-3 victory.

The Lightning went 1-1-1 against the Capitals last season and dropped the only game at Amalie Arena (Jan. 9, 2014) 4-3. The Caps grabbed a shootout victory over the Bolts in D.C. (Dec. 10, 2013) before the Lightning returned the favor on the final day of the regular season, registering a 1-0 shootout win at the Verizon Center.

“We haven’t played them this year,” Cooper said. “I don’t want to look back. I think everybody struggles with Washington. They have so much offensive talent.”

The Caps bring one of the most dynamic players in the NHL to Amalie Arena in Alex Ovechkin. The Bolts counter with their own dynamo Stamkos. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, Stamkos (218) and Ovechkin (208) lead the NHL in goals.

“They both have an unbelievable release and shot,” Washington head coach Barry Trotz, in his first season with the Caps, said. “(Ovechkin) is a bull, I mean he’s 230 pounds of power, and they both do the same thing. They’re both worth the price of admission, they really are. They bring you to the edge of your seat, and when they get the puck, you go, ‘OK, what’s going to happen?’ There’s a chance a score every time. That’s the gift that they have.”

Through 11 games, Stamkos leads Tampa Bay with eight goals and Ovechkin has a team-best five tallies in the nine games the Caps have played.

BARBERIO BACK

Lightning defenseman Mark Barberio will see his first action tonight since Calgary, teaming with Eric Brewer as a defensive pairing in place of Andrej Sustr, who is scratched.

“I think with Barbs because he’s been sitting out, I think naturally everybody puts a negative connotation on that, like ‘Oh, well Barbs isn’t doing something right,’” Cooper said. “Barbs is doing things right, we just have a bunch of guys doing a lot of good things. So, he’s kind of been the odd man out.”

Barberio saw his first action of the 2014-15 season in Edmonton, skating 18 shifts for 15-and-a-half minutes of time on ice. He played a day later in Calgary (21 shifts, 17:46 TOI), but hasn’t been seen in the four games since.
“It’s tough to get in, and when your time gets called like it is tonight, you’ve got to perform,” Cooper said. “He’s played a couple games for us, and he played well. I don’t have any complaints. He’s done well for us.”

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