Immediately following the Tampa Bay Lightning's morning skate Thursday Steven Stamkos told the media he is targeting a return in the days leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
"I've always said from the beginning, when the injury happened, that I want to come and play for Tampa Bay," Stamkos said. "But the goal was shooting for Sochi for sure."
Lightning vice president and general manager, Steve Yzerman, has kept close tabs on the first overall draft pick in 2008 since his injury and especially in his dual role as general manager for Team Canada's men's ice hockey team.
Yzerman and Stamkos have built the same understanding that while the beginning of February is Stamkos' goal, if he is not completely ready to go then he will not play.
"I would love to come back and play a few games before break," Stamkos said. "I'd love to go and represent my country, but if I'm not 100-percent healthy, the break will help me a lot with rehab and play strong in the Lightning's playoff push."
A last minute substitution can be made in place of Stamkos up until the day before the games begin.
Stamkos also said that Thursday's morning skate is the most involved he's been with the team since he started his full team skates last week.
"It's the most skating, crossing over and keeping up with the play that I've done," he said. "I felt really good."
NO SETBACKS STILL
After taking a fall during Thursday's skate, Stamkos was asked if he held his breath for a second.
"I was kind of laughing," he said. "It was nice to fall mentally. It was the first time I've fallen in 10 weeks. I had a nice streak going, but knowing that everything was fine – I got right back up – and I didn't feel any pain."
As far as physicality the next step in Stamkos' rehab includes "doing some bumping around with guys into the end boards."
"You still feel tweaks here-and-there, but that's more scar tissue stuff," Stamkos said. "It was definitely a positive day and I feel great."
Stamkos is scheduled to undergo his 10-week X-ray tonight and said he is going to assume, like every X-ray, that things are only improving because of how good he feels.
JANUARY SCHEDULE MAKING HOME WINS HARD TO COME BY
Head coach Jon Cooper attributed Tampa Bay's troubles at home to coming off a long road trip with a "sporadic home game" in the middle along with a few shootout losses that could have gone either way.
"We've come out on the short end of a couple one-goal games that we'd been on the front-end, the good end, at the beginning of the year," Cooper said.
Cooper mentioned however that winning at home is essential.
"You have to win more at home, that's kind of your bread and butter," he said. "Eventually it balances out."
OTHER ODDS 'N ENDS
- Ben Bishop is slated to start versus his former team, the Ottawa Senators, for the second straight time this season. In his last appearance against the Senators, Bishop stopped 33 of 34 shots he faced for a .971 save percentage.
- Victor Hedman and B.J. Crombeen will return to the lineup and J.P. Cote will be a healthy scratch as the Bolts skate with 11 forwards and seven defensemen.
- With his former team, the Senators, coming to Tampa Bay Thursday night, defenseman Brian Lee also returned to town after recently undergoing knee surgery.