Tampa Bay Lightning
Reinforcements could arrive for Lightning
COLUMBUS, Ohio - The overflow of injured players, which had begun to pile up over the past few days, finally spilled back out on to the ice for Lightning practice on Monday. As the team was put through another rugged practice - with a lot of work on puck battles for most of the 60-minute session at Nationwide Arena - only defensemen David Hale (ankle), Matt Smaby (back) and Matt Walker (body maintenance) were absent. And only Hale, who was sent back to Tampa, has been ruled out for tonight's rare meeting against the Blue Jackets. That means defenseman Kurtis Foster, who missed Saturday's game after his head hit the glass following a check from behind by Boston's Shawn Thornton on Thursday, could return. Foster worked out on his own on Sunday and returned to the ice Monday for practice. As long as there are no lingering effects, the team's leading scorer among defensemen with 36 points is expected to be in the lineup. Another possibility is left wing Ryan Malone, who has missed the past nine games after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on March 16. Malone flew to Columbus on Sunday to join the team after doing some light skating late last week in Tampa.While Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said he was unsure when he would get Malone back into the lineup, Malone said he feels ready to return. "I skated three times, had a pretty good skate the last time there, and (Monday), so," Malone said. "It's not fun watching games, even before, anytime you are not playing especially when the team is struggling, you want to be a part of it and help out anyway you can." Malone, who also was suffering from an undisclosed upper body injury he said has healed, has been nagged by the knee situation for some time, possibly having injured the knee originally with Pittsburgh during the 2008 postseason. "It was a pretty simple procedure, the structure was great, they just took out some cartilage that was in there to help relieve some of that pressure," he said. "Early on in the season ... it kind of locked up on me so this is just preventing all that other stuff from happening, so everything should be good to go." Whether Malone gets in the lineup tonight, or Tocchet opts to go with seven defensemen again as he did on Saturday in Buffalo, one thing that needs to happen is a better effort, which is a big reason for the past two grinding practices, even with Tampa Bay all but eliminated from the playoffs with seven games remaining on the season. "A major concern for us, is we just didn't battle in our last game," Tocchet said. "It does leave a bad taste in your mouth when you look at some guys who don't go for loose pucks or didn't battle hard enough. That's unacceptable."
Reporter Erik Erlendsson can be reached at (813) 259-7835.