After a three-day break in the action for Christmas, the Tampa Bay Lightning got right back to work in preparing for a pair of games this weekend. With back-to-backs on Saturday and Sunday, the Lightning's opponents, the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers, will not be considered gifts.
The Canadiens are currently two points behind the Bolts in the standings and the Rangers will be looking for redemption from a 5-0 whitewash handed to them by Tampa Bay on November 25.
While some rust is a factor with three consecutive off-days, Montreal had five days in between their last contest on December 21 and Saturday's first game back.
"Everybody's in the same boat," head coach Jon Cooper said. "These guys are in way too good of shape that a short amount of time is going to take them down."
Not only did the Bolts head into the holiday on a five-game winning streak, but they had a chance to recharge their batteries at nearly the halfway point of the campaign.
Defenseman Radko Gudas, who averages 20:40 minutes of ice time per night, found himself spending his first Christmas in Florida.
"It's always nice to have a couple days off," Gudas said. "Ondrej [Palat], J.P. [Cote] and I went to the beach on Christmas Day and on Christmas Eve we had dinner with a bunch of our teammates. I think there were nine of us in the house."
"I look at myself and it's been great to just take a break, catch up on sleep, do something different than game day, off day, practice day," Cooper said. "When you're coaching and playing hockey it's a grind – travel, late hours, and preparation – but to be on top of it you need a couple days away."
Cooper said that his netminders were the ones who would perhaps have the most rust to shake off this weekend.
CONDITIONING IMPORTANT STEP FOR MALONE
Forward Ryan Malone has missed 14 games with a lower body injury, but saw a positive step in his recovery by participating in his first full team practice Friday.
"I was little rusty," Malone said. "It was good to be out there with the boys and to have some laughs that you don't get to have when you're on the injured side of things."
Although he will not be returning to the ice this weekend, Malone will work on getting his timing back and conditioning.
"Today I stayed on the ice longer and worked on some skating drills," Malone said. "But overall day one was good, I survived."
Malone is expected to return to the lineup at some point next week.
BREWER AND SALO NOT PRESENT
A red no-contact jersey hung in Eric Brewer's stall, but the defenseman, who suffered an upper body injury in Saturday's game against the Carolina Hurricanes did not skate Friday. Sami Salo was absent from practice as well. They are both doutbful to play Saturday.
In their absence the Lightning recalled Dmitry Korobov from their AHL affiliate the Syracuse Crunch Friday evening.
Korobov joined the Lightning earlier this season and appeared in one game on November 19 versus the Los Angeles Kings.
ODDS 'N ENDS
Tampa Bay prospect Mike Angelidis is skating in his 500th professional game with Syracuse Friday. The forward has appeared in seven career NHL games with the Bolts from 2011-12 to 2012-13.
Nearly a two-hour practice lasted at the Tampa Bay Times Forum Friday. It involved some new drills that helped get the entire team's legs moving and involved. Cooper also wanted the team to touch as many pucks as possible so that they would have the best chance of winning Saturday.