Only a few players remained on the ice last week at practice when Lightning coach Guy Boucher looked back before he headed to the locker room. Boucher's last piece of practice coaching was directed to defenseman Pavel Kubina.
Boucher's instruction: save some energy for the game the next day.
Kubina pounded five more slap shots into the back of the net and he was finally done.
Extra time on the ice is something that Kubina has seen seen a lot the last 18 games. With injuries on the blue line, Kubina has taken on the role of a top-pair defenseman again with Eric Brewer
and accomplished it with aplomb.
"He's been a really good, he's been a great soldier and always has a great attitude," Boucher said. "I think right now he knows the urgency of the situation and he's been terrific for us."
Kubina played 20 minutes or more six of his first nine games. Over the next 17 games, he averaged less than 16 minutes per game. With Matt Gilroy and Marc-Andre Bergeron
missing games and then Victor Hedman
going down with a concussion, Kubina has played 20 or more minutes 17 of the last 18 games – 22 or more 14 times and more than 27 twice.
Since Dec. 17, Kubina has two goals, four assists and is plus-6.
"When you get more ice time, you feel like you are more into the game and, for myself, I have more jump," Kubina said. "I'm just trying to help the team win every night. It's hard without those guys, but every team has injuries. It's part of the game."
In some ways, Kubina is just happy to be playing a lot of hockey again.
He was knocked out of the first game of the Eastern Conference semifinal series against Washington with a concussion last season and had to sit out the rest of the playoffs.
"It was hard to watch the games on TV," Kubina said. "I was getting more headaches and I was dizzy. It was a really difficult time, but my wife and daughter (Andrea and Teresa) helped me out a lot. It took pretty much two months to feel better."
Kubina said he can't complain. He feels fortunate to have been healthy for most of his 14-year NHL career. Still, returning for training camp in September healthy was a relief following the playoff injury setback.
"It was great for me to come back, be around the guys and do what I usually do," Kubina said.
Kubina, 34, is now third among defenseman and fifth on the team in average ice time, is third in blocks (79) and fourth in hits (75).
When asked whether it was tougher mentally or physically to go from 15-16 minutes a game to 22-23, Kubina said both are difficult but part of every defenseman's job.
"When you play against the top line it's hard on your body," Kubina said. "That's why you train the whole summer and here during the season. You just have to be prepared for each night."
With his booming shot at the point, Kubina has spent a lot of time on the power play in his 16 seasons – 12 with the Lightning. He has 54 of his 110 career goals on the power play in 945 career games.
This season, he has averaged 2:04 per contest on the penalty kill and 1:18 on the power play.
"I've had to adjust a little bit," Kubina said. "But whatever coach asks me to do, whether it's playing against the top line, penalty kill, power play, it doesn't matter to me."
Boucher said the team has leaned on Kubina a lot as a veteran and he has been answering the call in a shutdown role.
"Anybody that gets extra ice time likes it," Boucher said. "The problem is if somebody can't handle it, it becomes a disaster for the player and the team. It hasn't happened with Kuby because the experience he has allows him to manage it. The ice time is welcome for him and I feel lucky that we can rely on him."