Alec Martinez took the ice with the Kings for the first time since suffering “concussion-like symptoms” on a hit from Tampa Bay’s Cedric Paquette on February 7 and returned to his familiar place on the ice – alongside Marian Gaborik and Trevor Lewis.
“I think I’d be a little worried if I were Kopi,” he joked.
Kopitar, who was not present at the morning skate as he attended the birth of his daughter, ceded his position to Martinez as the defenseman returned to regular practices after having worked up his conditioning in separate on-ice sessions that began with a light skate on March 6 and escalated to the point where he took the ice for a nearly an hour with Associate Coach John Stevens yesterday.
“It was a good skate with Johnny and Johnny had injuries before, so we’ve been through this process,” he said. “It’s just like anything, when you’re getting back into it, you’ve got to get back into shape and it’s not always the most fun, but it’s necessary.”
Martinez may not have had fun during yesterday’s conditioning skate, but friend and frequent defensive partner Matt Greene sure did this morning.
“It was fun, man. It was fun,” Greene said. “It’s good to see him get some work in, you know? I think it’s good, once you’re injured, to come back and be around the guys a little bit more. That’s what makes it fun. It shows that you’re getting closer to playing again.”
And so Martinez, a popular figure on and off the ice and skilled puck advancer, now has a light at the end of the tunnel after weeks of uncertainty about a potential return date. He won’t play against Nashville tonight, though a potential return is now visible on the horizon.
“You kind of feel like you’re a part of things again,” he said.
He felt no need to re-watch Paquette’s hit – “I lived it, so I don’t need to watch it,” he said – and expressed no ill humor to the Lightning rookie who administered the heavy but legal blow,
“It is what it is, a contact sport,” Martinez said. “He hit me in the shoulder, so no comment, I guess. It’s a contact sport, it’s going to happen.”
Tough decisions lie ahead for Sutter as the Kings, 12-3-1 in their last 16 games, will have to make alterations on the blue line to accommodate Martinez, who has five goals, 17 points and a plus-11 rating as an adept puck-mover capable of catalyzing the pace of the team’s play.
But those decisions will have to wait for another day as Martinez continues to build up stamina and ready himself for game situations.
“I kind of eased my way into it. They didn’t want to rush me too quickly,” he said. “I think I had a good gradual incline in the intensity. In all, it felt good to get out there. It felt good, the pace of practices felt good and I felt up to speed. It’s just a matter of getting my legs and lungs back in order.”
Alec Martinez, on when he felt like he started to turn the corner:
Well, I’m not going to walk you through everything because there are ups and downs like any injury. It’s just this past week or so. This is my first injury of this sort, so a lot of it was learning how my body reacts to it. With these, once you start feeling good again I think it increases exponentially.
Martinez, on whether he’ll re-enter the lineup after feeling good for several days consecutively:
No, I think it’s a matter of getting my legs back and stuff, getting back in shape, getting my conditioning in order.
Martinez, on the team’s success and eventually entering the lineup in a playoff race:
It’s awesome. It’s been really fun to watch as of late and obviously that’s a double-edged sword. You want to see your team do well and things like that, but it’s also hard being out because as part of the team you want to contribute, you want to play. Regardless of the type of injury, when you’re out you want to get back in there so it’s been both good and bad. But at the end of the day, I want the team to be playing well regardless of whether I’m out there or not. So it’s been good. Hopefully we can keep it going. They can keep it going. We can keep it going once I’m back.
Matt Greene, on how often he saw Alec Martinez since his injury:
You don’t see him that much at the beginning and we’ve been on the road a little bit here, too. It’s tough for us, too. On practice days, you try to get in and out of the rink as fast as you can. So it’s just good to have him on our schedule now and be part of the group again.
Greene, on any motivation to beat Nashville for the first time this year:
The motivation is to just get points right now. They’re a good team at the top of the standings. We’ve got to bring our best here and get the big two points.
Greene, on how Nashville is different from previous seasons:
I think they’ve got a good movement of the five guys. Anytime they’re on the ice, they work really hard, they still do that. They’ve got some skill and it’s working for them. We’ve just got to be ready for a hard game tonight.