Ryan Callahan: 'Best I've felt in a long time'
Much has been made of how Lightning captain Steven Stamkos has looked in camp, and the four-time All-Star certainly seems ready for Friday's first regular season game in 11 months.
But what should not be lost is how wing Ryan Callahan, 32, appears like he's finally put his nagging hip issues behind him. Callahan, shut down in January before a second hip procedure in February, has been encouraged with how his body responded to a full camp and preseason.
"This is the best I've felt in a long time," Callahan said.
That could be good news for the Lightning, with Callahan opening the season on the second line with Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn. Callahan may not score 24 goals like he did in 2014-15, his first with the Lightning. But with three years left on his contract, Callahan is back to playing his physical, gritty game, a pest on the penalty kill and ferocious on the forecheck. Coach Jon Cooper had to take Callahan out of Saturday's exhibition to protect the veteran from himself after blocking two big-time shots.
"There's no hesitation," Callahan said. "For me to be effective, I've got to play that way. That's when I'm at my best, is when I'm blocking shots, taking the body, getting in front of the net. That's the only way I'm going to be successful. I have to play that way."
Said Cooper: "Between Callahan and Stamkos, just the way they’re skating and moving and getting around the ice, you wouldn’t think they had time off."
More from practice: It looks like the Lightning is set on its lines, with Vladislav Namestnikov-Steven Stamkos-Nikita Kucherov followed by Killorn-Johnson-Callahan, Yanni Gourde-Brayden Point-Ondrej Palat, Chris Kunitz-Cedric Paquette-Gabriel Dumont. Same with defense pairings, Victor Hedman-Jake Dotchin, Mikhail Sergachev-Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn-Dan Girardi, Slater Koekkoek-Andrej Sustr. It would seem J.T. Brown could be scratched Friday, along with both Koekkoek and Sustr (unless Tampa Bay goes with seven defensemen)... Sergachev, on making his Lightning debut: "I just made Opening Night. But I want to play the full season. I want to be an NHL'er." On how Andrei Vasilevskiy is handling Friday's start, the first time he's entered a full season as No. 1? “I don’t know how this one can top jumping into the Stanley Cup Finals," Cooper quipped... Both free agent additions, Dan Girardi and Chris Kunitz will be regulars on the penalty kill.