Simon returns from suspension, Islanders expect to play him 6-8 minutes
Simon was back at the scene of the crime -- in this case multiple crimes -- after serving a 30-game ban for stomping on the leg of Pittsburgh's Jarkko Ruutu in December at Nassau Coliseum.
The rugged and sometimes out-of-control left winger has played 26 games this season and missed 35 due to a pair of suspensions.
The most recent sanction from the NHL was the longest in terms of games handed down by the league for an on-ice incident. It topped the record-setting 25-gamer Simon received last season and completed during this campaign.
"He did something wrong and he paid the price for it," Islanders coach Ted Nolan said. "You can't be too judgmental. I don't think there are too many of us on this planet that don't make too many mistakes.
"He loves the game of hockey, he wants to play, he wants to contribute, so right now is a good time for him to come back."
Nolan said Simon, who declined to speak to reporters before Thursday's game, was in the best shape he's seen him since they both joined the Islanders before last season. Nolan figured Simon would get between 6 and 8 minutes of ice time against the Lightning.
"Chris has to focus just on what he has to do on the ice," Nolan said. "When you get bucked off that horse, sometimes you have a little tendency to get a little leery about hopping right back on. My theory is you hop right back on and do what you normally do.
"People did a lot worse things than what Chris Simon did, but Chris did what he did and now it's over with. ... One thing we want Chris to do is play an aggressive style. We want him to go up and down and hit bodies. We want Chris to be a physical presence."
Simon has been visible recently at Islanders home games. He began practicing with his teammates last week for the first time since Dec. 15, the night he tripped Ruutu and then jammed his skate blade on the back of the Pittsburgh forward's leg.
Two days later, Simon took a leave from the Islanders to seek counseling within the behavioral health program run jointly by the NHL and the players' association. Just two days after that, NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell handed down the suspension that covered more than one-third of this season.
It marked the eighth time in Simon's 15-season NHL career he has been suspended by the league. This penalty was especially severe because of Simon's violent history and the fact it came so soon after the long ban he received following his two-handed, stick-swinging attack to the head of New York Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg during a home game last season.
Simon, 36, was suspended last March for 25 games -- 15 regular-season games, a five-game playoff series loss to Buffalo, and five games to open this season.
"It's seamless, right back to where it was before," Islanders captain Bill Guerin said of Simon's return. "Unfortunately, he's been through it before. He knows how to play one way and that's the way he's been successful, and I'm sure that's what he is going to bring.
"There is no reason to change."
Simon's return comes in the midst of New York's season-best, five-game winning streak, that has again moved the Islanders within striking distance of an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
"To me this is not a distraction, it's an addition," Nolan said.
The punishment cost Simon $292,683. As a repeat offender, his salary was docked based on games missed as opposed to days in the season.
Simon had one goal, two assists and 41 penalty minutes at the time of his suspension.
"It's good to have him back around," Guerin said. "It's kind of tough when guys are away like that ... you kind of have to move along and just go about your every day. You don't constantly talk about how much you miss a guy, but when you get them back it's a big difference."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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