SUNRISE, Fla. -- Vincent Lecavalier was the face of Tampa Bay's franchise for a decade and a half, a guy linked to the Lightning like no other, on and off the ice.
Until this summer.
That's when the Lightning, which will face the Penguins at 7:08 p.m. today at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, bought out his contract, a move that ultimately led to Lecavalier signing with Philadelphia.
The Penguins had plenty of time to prepare for a game against Tampa Bay when Lecavalier wasn't in the lineup, although that doesn't mean it will be any less strange to take on the Lightning without him.
"I've followed him since he pretty much started there," Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "He's pretty much been a fixture there, their marquee guy. That will certainly be different."
Lecavalier, who entered the NHL in 1998, is the Lightning's all-time leading scorer against the Penguins, with 27 goals and 18 assists in 52 career games.
"Since I've been playing, he's been there," said Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who made his NHL debut in 2003. "He's a very good player, always dangerous."
The Lightning doesn't seem to miss him too much. It is 3-1 with Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Teddy Purcell producing better than a point per game.
"They have a good power play, a good team for scoring goals, like they showed [in a 7-2 victory Thursday night against Florida]," Fleury said. "Anytime we go in there, it's a tough game."
Letang returns to practice
Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, recovering from what is believed to be a knee injury, took another step Friday toward getting back in uniform. He not only participated in the team's optional morning skate at the BB&T Center -- the first time he has skated with his teammates since being injured -- but remained on the ice afterward to get some contact.
Coach Dan Bylsma suggested that Letang is scheduled to receive more contact today in Tampa and Monday, after the Penguins have returned home.
"We'll probably see how the next three days go, to see how he's progressing," Bylsma said. "Whether he's doing well with that, whether we'd have to taper his progression."
There apparently is no timetable for Letang to make his 2013-14 regular-season debut, and Bylsma said the Penguins are taking a conservative approach because Letang was hurt in training camp.
"We're probably taking a little more time, cautionary-wise, than we would if this was a mid-season situation," he said.
Winger Matt D'Agostini (unspecified injury) did not participate in the game-day skate, but did go on the ice after it ended.
Fleury recalls his debut
Although it's been a long time since Fleury made his NHL debut -- a spectacular, 46-save performance in a 3-0 loss against Los Angeles on Oct. 10, 2003 at Mellon Arena -- he still recalls the emotions that swept over him that day.
"I was excited and nervous," he said. "I just wanted to do it, play that first NHL game. It was a dream to make it and play."
Fleury planned to speak with his goaltending partner, Jeff Zatkoff, before Zatkoff got his first NHL start Friday night against Florida, but said he didn't believe it was necessary to give Zatkoff much advice about what was going to happen.
"He's been doing this for a long time and has worked hard to get where he's at," Fleury said. "I think he knows what to do."
Penguins left winger Chris Kunitz and right winger St. Louis were the only NHL players who were not held without a point in consecutive games last season. ... Lightning goalie Ben Bishop suffered an unspecified injury Thursday against the Panthers Thursday, making Anders Lindback the likely goalie tonight against the Penguins.penguins
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published October 11, 2013 8:16 PM