After spending most of the lockout working out back in his hometown outside Toronto, Steven Stamkos welcomed the opportunity to drive to the rink for Tuesday's informal Lightning practice.
"It was nice to be able to roll down the windows in the car on the way here,'' said Stamkos, who arrived in town on Monday and skated with most of the team for the first time since the NHL lockout was resolved early Sunday morning.
Stamkos owns a house about 20 minutes north of his hometown of Markham, Ont., in what he said is considered the snow belt. So his house experienced plenty of the powdery white stuff throughout a good portion of the past month. While at first he liked the idea of using his snow blower to clear the path from his front door and around his car, it didn't take long for the novelty to wear off.
He was happy to return to Florida weather, which on Tuesday rivaled that of an early summer day in Toronto, and be back with his teammates.
"It feels great, I haven't been here for a while and it feels like home,'' Stamkos said. "I'm excited to see all the guys and be able to skate with the guys. It's fun, these guys are a family to all of us so to be separated for this period of time has been tough. But at the end of the day we are back here now, we have to put our working boots on and be prepared to start the year.''
Stamkos ended last year in historic fashion becoming just the 20th player in NHL history to score 60 goals, picking up the record setting goal in the final game of the season on April 7 in Winnipeg. That realization still hasn't really set in for him.
"It's weird, people talk about it, you hear about it but for me it doesn't really register that I'm a 60-goal scorer,'' he said. "I know my job is to go out to create offense and to produce and score. So I just look at it that I want to be the best every game, I want to score every game, that's just the mentality that I have no matter how many goals I have.
"But it is pretty cool when you hear there have only been 20 players in the history of the game to do that. I couldn't have done it without the help of my teammates, but it is a humbling stat when I do hear about it.''
With this lockout-shortened campaign reducing the number of games to 48, reaching that plateau once again seems like a bit of an unrealistic thought – although he said he would love to be able to do so – but he knows of one sure way to improve upon last season.
"Get into the playoffs, that's the big key and that's our goal here as an organization,'' he said. "You look at what we did a couple of years back and how well we did (reaching the conference final) so you just have to get in and good things can happen. That's the motto we have this year, we want to be a playoff team.''
There is no chance, however, that Stamkos will be able to escape the inevitable questions about his goal-scoring ability – already with a pair of Rocket Richard trophies and two 50-goal seasons after four years in the league. So right from the start, the questions about whether or not he will be able to reach the 50-goal mark during the 48-game campaign will no doubt follow him around everywhere he goes this season, especially if he gets off to a quick start.
"I've gone through that once before (scoring 19 goals in 19 games to start the 2010-11 season), but I'm sure I won't have to be dealing with too many of those,'' Stamkos said. "It would nice to get it, but you have to be a realist and not focus on those types of things when you are coming into games especially in a shortened season when wins are that much more important. So we are going to be focused on winning games right now and not individual stuff.''
That's not to say he doesn't put the pressure on himself to score goals that could put him in that position for another chase at history.
"I see myself as a pretty motivated individual and I do have goals for myself, and I've said it in the past I always put the most pressure on myself to perform,'' he said. "There are certain goals that I'm thinking about each and every game in trying to accomplish those throughout the year to help my team win and be better.''