Tampa Bay Lightning D Mattias Ohlund plays 900th game tonight in "one of my most fun years"
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mattias Ohlund said he was not aware that he will play the 900th game of his career tonight against the Islanders. He said he is not a milestone kind of guy, anyway. More important in Ohlund's career is how, at 34, he has accepted the role which the Lightning wants him to play -- with an emphasis on defense.
A points producer in 11 seasons with the Canucks, Ohlund had 93 goals and 232 assists in 770 games. He has zero goals and 18 assists in 129 games with Tampa Bay and has gone 131 games without a goal. His last was April 7, 2009, for the Canucks against the Flames.
Ohlund, who has five assists this season, said he doesn't mind.
"This has been one of the most fun years I've had," he said. It's a great group to be part of, and when you're winning it's very easy to accept any role you are given. The (coaching) staff here has found a way to make everybody, wherever you play or in whatever role, feel important."
Ohlund generally does not play against the opposition's top lines. He is a key penalty killer, but he no longer gets power play time, something on which he was a regular in Vancouver. Actually, the transition began last season under then-coach Rick Tocchet. Several injuries (especially knee and ankle problems last season) hastened the re-positioning.
"He's had a year to digest it," coach Guy Boucher said. "The first thing he told me is 'I understand now what my role in the NHL has changed,' and he wants to make the best of it. I'm sure it's difficult to accept as the years go on and as you get older that you're role has changed, but I think he's done it. It must be hard for anybody, but he's such a gentleman and he's such a team-oriented guy that he has taken it and run with it very well."
Ohlund, with five years left on a seven-year deal he signed as a free agent in July 2009, said he believes he has a lot of hockey left in him if he can stay healthy and perhaps regain some of the speed he has lost.
"If I can be healthy and physically be what I want to be, I can still be a very effective player," Ohlund said. "But it's a balance. I want to do more but I also can't beat myself up mentally every day because I've done stuff in the past I haven't done the past two years."
Other stuff from the morning skate: Dwayne Roloson starts in net for the first time against his former team tonight. ... Left wing Simon Gagne is back in the lineup after missing one game while undergoing follow-up treatment on the nerve injury in his neck that kept him out of 18 games in October and November. ... Boucher said for now he is going to keep Nate Thompson on Vinny Lecavalier's line. ... Speaking of Lecavalier, he was thrilled with the Matt Cooke suspension. "I think they took a step forward by doing that," he said of the league. "By saying it's 10 games and a round (of the playoffs), it's going to make guys think they're serious. If you elbow a guy in the head, you're going to get suspended. Keep it down." Lecavalier, who sustained a serious shoulder injury at the end of the 2007-08 season on a blind-side hit from Cooke, said he took no personal satisfaction from the suspension. "I'm just happy the league is doing that," he said. "Hopefully, it helps clean up the league." ... Defenseman Randy Jones will miss his seventh game tonight with a high ankle sprain on his left leg. Jones said the original timetable, though loose, was four to six weeks . Four weeks would be April 11, just in time for the playoffs. ... Boucher has said he wants his forwards to limit their shifts to 40 seconds -- at most. Players have been staying on much longer and Boucher said the longer shifts might be contributing to fatigue at ends of games. "Every shift, every second, it takes a toll on you the rest of the game," he said. Still, it's not always possible. Sometimes teams get pinned in their own zone. Power play time can also skew the averages. But Steven Stamkos said it is something of which to be aware. "Sometimes you can't do anything about it," he said. "But if you have an opportunity to change instead of maybe trying to cheat for an offensive chance, those are the times. If you have an unproductive shift, just cut your losses and get off. Don't try to extend and make something out of nothing. That's really what the message was." ... Lecavalier, as you probably know, will be grand marshall of the St. Pete Grand Prix on Sunday. It's a natural given his love of auto racing, especially Formula I. "I love cars," he said. "I'm like a kid in a candy story when it comes to that." Clearly, though, he has to work on his "Gentlemen, start your engines" cry before the race. Lecavalier was practicing this morning. "The guys were laughing at me," he said. ... In addition to the seven players who are shaving their heads April 7 to raise money for child cancer research (Lecavalier, Thompson, Ryan Malone, Marty St. Louis, Teddy Purcell, Mike Smith and Victor Hedman) are Sun Sports reporter Paul Kennedy and producer Rob Allaer.