TAMPA — Coach Rick Tocchet said he didn't know what to expect from David Hale after the defenseman was acquired in July from the Coyotes in the Radim Vrbata deal.
Hale has turned into a pleasant surprise, with an attitude Tocchet said is a "perfect example" for the culture the Lightning is trying to create.
Hale, 28, appeared to be on the outside looking in on a crowded blue line during training camp, and he sat out a few games early in the season. But the Colorado Springs native didn't complain and instead let his gritty play do the talking, making it tough for Tocchet to take him out of the lineup. Hale played in his 11th straight game Saturday against the Kings and assisted on the Lightning's lone goal. He is second among Lightning defensemen in plus-minus (plus-3).
"(Hale) didn't pout; he rolled up his sleeves. I love guys like that," Tocchet said. "I respect that. He took the approach of, 'Okay, I'm going to work my (rear end) off, and when it's my chance … .' It says a lot about him."
Hale, 6 feet 1 and 218 pounds, isn't flashy, but Tocchet said he's at his best on tough plays in tight spots.
"He's a good player in small areas. People don't come out of the corners on him," Tocchet said.
"He doesn't get spun around. He's got to work on his puck handling, passing, things like that. But the close-quarter stuff is where he excels."
Too many?: Tocchet said there are positives in carrying nine defensemen (most teams carry seven), including creating competition and having depth in case of injury (like Saturday, when Matt Walker was scratched due to what Tocchet called "body maintenance").
But Tocchet acknowledged that having that many isn't ideal, especially at this point in the season.
"I think we've gone a little bit too long with … nine defensemen," he said. "It's tough. It's a little unusual this late in the season. But it's a nice problem, because some teams are really going down with a lot of defensemen (getting hurt)."
Up close: After beginning the season with a nine-game goalless drought, LW Alex Tanguay has racked up seven points (including three goals) in his past eight games. And if Tanguay is going to keep that success up, Tocchet said, he has to "get his nose to the net."
"When (Tanguay) is struggling, he's playing really perimeter hockey," Tocchet said. "He's got to get in there. But it's not just him. It's other guys."
Case in point: All three regulation goals in Thursday's shootout win against Minnesota came from in front of the net.
Odds and ends: C Ryan Craig played Saturday, with LW Todd Fedoruk scratched along with Walker. D Kurtis Foster played in Walker's place. D Matt Smaby was also scratched.