Simon back with Islanders after serving record 30-game NHL ban

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. - Chris Simon's latest one more chance started Thursday night when he returned to the New York Islanders lineup against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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.

He played nine shifts, only four after the first period, and totalled 6:17 of ice time in the Islanders' 1-0 victory that stretched their winning streak to a season-best six games.

A bit surprising was the amount of boos from the home crowd that greeted him for his first shift.

"The most important thing is that we won," he said. "My teammates have been so supportive and have been great to me. I can't control what other people think and how they react. I respect that they have their opinion and I'm just going to keep working hard in gaining them back.

"I worked hard this time that I've had away from the game on myself. I feel much better now coming back. I just want to move forward and help the team."

The rugged and sometimes out-of-control left wing has played 27 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.

"It's in the past," a smiling but subdued Simon said. "I need to focus on each game, each shift. I can't control what other people think. All I can do is work hard and play hard."

Islanders coach Ted Nolan said Simon was in the best shape he's seen him since they both joined the Islanders before last season. He was also pleased with the early returns Thursday.

"I didn't want to give him too much ice time too early but I thought he did a great job for us," he said.

Simon took his first shift 2 1/2 minutes into the opening period, alongside rookies Blake Comeau and Frans Nielsen on the Islanders' fourth line, and heard a few cheers and louder boos when he hit the ice and touched the puck.

"Fans pay their hard-earned money to voice their opinions. You can't control that," Nolan said. "Chris is a big boy and we're all professional athletes here. You take the good with the bad and unfortunately our fans chose to do that."

Simon has been visible recently at Islanders home games. He began practising 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 counselling within the behavioural 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.

"Si paid the price for his actions, kept his mouth shut and did what he had to do and he's back," goalie Rick DiPietro said. "We're all happy to have him back."

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 when the Islanders are playing their best hockey of the season. New York is only one point below the post-season cutoff in the Eastern Conference race.

"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."



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