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For the defense



I will have a story tomorrow about Dan Boyle and what is, for the most part, a lonely rehab. But instead of being negative, thought it would be a good idea here to discuss the silver lining that comes with his injury. Mainly, that his fellow blue liners will be better players after this is over because they have been asked to stretch their games some, play more minutes, learn about the concentration needed to do that, and focus on helping the offensive transition more than they would otherwise.

Examples: Paul Ranger (the goof against the Thrashers notwithstanding) is doing a very good job and averaging 26:32 of ice time, up more than six minutes from last season. Shane O'Brien is averaging 25:05, up more than 10 minutes. Filip Kuba is averaging 24:48, up more than four.

Lightning coaches have stressed they do not want their defenders trying end-to-end rushes like Boyle. If they have some room, they can carry the puck forward but the mandate is for strong first passes out of the defensive zone. Make them , and the offensive transition clicks. The forwards have to help some here, as well, by not blowing too far out of the zone too quickly. But it is the defense that quarterbacks.

"We're definitely learning,'' Ranger said. "It's giving us a little bit of experience, so if this ever happens again, and somebody is out for a long period of time, we'll have the experience and know we can do it.''

For younger players such as rookies Mike Lundin and Matt Smaby, it is like a crash course. Lundin has already solidified himself within the top 5. But Smaby stuck with the team because Boyle was hurt and is getting hands-on experience like he would not have otherwise, learning to cope with the pace of the game, which, right now, is his weakness.

Is this going to turn all the blue-liners into All-Stars? Probably not. But they will be better for the experience. So cry over Boyle's injury and the loss of his 20 goals, 64 points and 27:03 of ice time. But, for now, and with the team 2-0, look on the bright side. Your back liners are shouldering responsibility they might not have had to if Boyle were around. So far, they're holding up under the pressure.

[Last modified: Sunday, August 16, 2009 4:38pm]


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