For the first time since undergoing surgery January 20 to repair torn adductor muscles in his lower abdomen, Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Matt Carle participated in light drills during the Bolts’ morning skate at Los Angeles’ Staples Center on Monday.
Carle has missed 12 games since getting injured in a 3-2 home victory over Edmonton (Jan. 15).
“To be out for a significant amount of time is hard, and you’re not around the guys as much and probably too familiar with the training staff,” Carle said. “It’s been a weird process.”
Carle had played in 347 straight regular season games over four-plus seasons before being sidelined in mid-January. The 30-year-old blue liner had a similar injury in his final season in Philadelphia (2011-12) and underwent offseason surgery to repair a tear in his abdominal wall before coming to Tampa Bay.
“The only difference between this time and last time was I think the tear that I had last time was just from wear and tear I guess,” he said. “It was not any one play that really did it. It more felt like a strain. We were able to rehab through it and wait until the season was over.”
Carle said it was a hit from behind by the Oilers’ Ryan Nugent-Hopkins that caused his latest setback. He felt a pop after the hit and tried to take a stride but knew something was wrong right away.
“The puck just kind of got rimmed around, and I went to protect it,” Carle said. “He was kind of right here and gave me a little jolt from behind. It was just a harmless thing that he’s probably done hundreds of times…That was probably the weirdest thing about it.”
Carle’s projected return was six to eight weeks following the surgery, which would put him back on the ice anywhere between March 3-17. He said rehab has gone well, and he’s hoping he can get into the lineup sooner rather than later.
“The range is around six weeks, certainly right on pace for that,” he said. “If it’s a little bit sooner than that, it’d be great. If it’s a little bit later, you never know. Doing all the right things I can and it felt good on the ice. Hopefully just continues to get better.”
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said his team had Sunday’s rematch with San Jose circled on its calendar as a game that would have a big effect on how the team was going to finish the rest of the year.
Tampa Bay passed the first test, beating San Jose in a building the Bolts hadn’t won in since 2003.
Next up are the Los Angeles Kings, winners of two of the last three Stanley Cups and a team that jumped on the Lightning early to win 4-2 February 7 at Amalie Arena.
Defenseman Andrej Sustr said the team is approaching this five-game West Coast road trip like a playoff series. The Lightning are playing some of the best teams the West has to offer in their buildings, and, as the top team in the East, the Bolts expect to get each opponent’s best shot.
Tampa Bay enters tonight’s game against the Kings at the Staples Center tied with Montreal for first place in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division with 76 points.
“You’re going to be in this position on the road in tough places [during the playoffs],” Sustr said. “A lot of Western Conference teams are difficult places to play, and they’re good teams.
“It’s kind of a big test for us.”
Sustr said the key to beating San Jose was by dictating the style of play, and a similar effort will be required against Los Angeles.
“We played a good defensive game, and we capitalized on our opportunities,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll be ready to play the same way tonight.”
Sustr will skate in his 100th career NHL game against the Kings.
“If someone would have told me a few years back that I would be skating in one NHL game let alone 100, it’d be kind of surreal,” Sustr said. “Obviously, it feels great to be here, and it’s been quite the ride. I’m enjoying being in the middle of it.”
ROAD PK WOES
Tampa Bay’s home penalty kill is second-best in the NHL at 88.6 percent.
Away from Amalie Arena, however, the story is much different. The Bolts have allowed 22 power-play goals in 97 opportunities, a success rate of 77.3 percent, 25th in the NHL. Against San Jose, the Sharks went 1-for-3 on the power play.
Overall, Tampa Bay is tied for 11th in the league on the PK at 82.7 percent.
“I don’t know why that is,” Lightning forward Cedric Paquette said. “Honestly, it’s the same game whether you’re home or away. We’ve got to be sharper on the penalty kill on the road obviously.”
Paquette said sometimes an opposing crowd can spark their team’s power play, their reaction to a series of accurate passes or a hard shot from the point spurring their team to finish the job.
“But, still, it should be the same,” Paquette said. “We just have to find a way to do better.”
Paquette missed two games with an upper-body injury but returned to the lineup in San Jose to score a goal, his seventh in eight games and 12th of the season.
“I have a little pain still from my injury,” he said. “But, I can play with it, and I felt good last night.”