Sitting in his locker stall Saturday morning after yet another bag skate, D Matt Smaby had sweat dripping profusely down his face.
At this point of the season, continuing to work hard is all Smaby can do as he waits for the opportunity to make his season debut.
"It's tough. Practices are what they are," Smaby said. "The good thing is that it's still early, and even though I haven't played in a long time, I still feel really good and I feel confident that I can do it."
After he played in a career-high 43 games last season, a good portion of them in the final month with a broken foot, all Smaby has seen this year is three games with AHL Norfolk on a conditioning stint.
"I showed that I can play last year and make a difference in a game," Smaby said. "It's frustrating, because I know I can play."
Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said he had a long talk with Smaby after Saturday's morning skate.
"Life's not fair right now for him," Tocchet said. "Should he be in? Yeah, he should be playing some games, but there are guys ahead of him, and we're winning some games and I didn't want to break up those six guys. But he does add something, and he said that he'll be ready to go, but I have to get him in the lineup eventually."
While the Canadian media frequently has been asking questions of Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos about the possibility of representing Canada at the 2010 Olympics, Ryan Malone's chances for being on Team USA continue to increase.
The 28-year-old Pittsburgh native is off to the best start of his career with 10 goals through 15 games, tied for sixth in the league. With that kind of opening month, Malone might be a lock for the roster, which will be announced during the Winter Classic on New Year's Day on NBC.
Malone, however, is trying not to give it much thought.
"Not too often, but certainly it's in the back of your mind," he said. "I wanted to get myself off to a better start and I maybe rested a little more before the start of camp, didn't work out as hard, so I guess that's been a help. But there's still another two months to go, so there is a long time before they pick that team."
D Paul Ranger's absence continues to be a mystery, as he has been away from the team for two weeks while he deals with undisclosed personal issues.
When asked whether there was anything to update, Tocchet said nothing has changed and that the only contact the team has made with Ranger has been via text messages.
While the Montreal media focused intently on the return of native sons Alex Tanguay, Lecavalier and St. Louis, Stephane Veilleux also returned to his home province for Saturday's game, just the fourth time in his career he has played in Montreal.
He said no matter how many times he plays in front of family and friends, including his parents, brother and sister on Saturday, it's a thrill.
"It's always fun. There is no question that Montreal is one of the most enjoyable atmospheres to play in front of," he said. "Just the energy in the building."
Nuts and bolts
Tampa Bay scratched LW Todd Fedoruk, D Victor Hedman (concussion) and Smaby. ... Lecavalier had his second multi-point game of the season. ... With his first-period goal, Tanguay has scored against every NHL team.