TAMPA — Coach Rick Tocchet said he admires David Hale's "gritty" game. Add a dip in the performance of Kurtis Foster and Hale has pushed into the top six on defense.
"He's done a nice job for us," Tocchet said. "He practices hard. He's the ultimate depth guy."
He also is a surprise.
"Yeah, a little bit," Tocchet said.
Hale, 28, who made his second straight start Saturday, seemed a throw-in when acquired from the Coyotes in the Radim Vrbata deal. It was believed he was trade bait during the summer. But the Colorado Springs native has an assist and is plus-1, and Saturday played a season-high 21 minutes.
"It's nice to get in the games, and it's nice to chip in and help your teammates and feel like you're part of it," Hale said.
Especially when starting the season on the outside looking in. With nine defensemen on the roster and Tocchet's preference for playing a consistent unit of six, moving up the depth chart is challenging. But as Tocchet said, "Every time we put David in there, he's done a nice job for us."
"There's definitely competition," Hale said. "No one hid that. That's what they wanted."
It's what Hale provided.
RANGER OUT, FOSTER IN: D Paul Ranger was a late scratch for what Tocchet called personal reasons. Foster took his place. Tocchet said Ranger phoned him with the request. The coach said he had no other information.
MESZAROS HURT: Andrej Meszaros left the game in the third period after, Tocchet said, the defenseman was inadvertently hit in the head with a stick. Tocchet said he did not believe the injury was serious.
DEJA VU: Saturday wasn't the first time the Lightning let a game slip away in the final seconds. In the Devils' 4-3 shootout win Oct. 8, New Jersey's Travis Zajac scored with one second left in regulation to tie the score 3-3.
LEARNING CURVE: Rookie D Victor Hedman is getting better at determining the correct times to jump into the offensive flow, Tocchet said. The No. 2 overall pick of the June draft had a spate of games in which he too often was caught up ice.
"We don't want to take that away from him," Tocchet said of Hedman's offensive instincts. "He loves to play. He loves to get up there. … A couple of times he'll get in there when we don't have anybody back, and it's a little dangerous. He's a young kid. He just has to recognize situations."
BIG BOYS: Tampa Bay isn't the only team with a big-body rookie defenseman. Buffalo has 6-foot-8, 222-pound Tyler Myers, who has two goals, five points and is plus-8. Asked about the similarities between Myers, the 13th overall draft pick in 2008, and the 6-6, 220-pound Hedman, Tocchet said, "Their arrow … goes up. The ceiling is high for those guys. You can tell (Myers) is being taught the right way. He's big, he can skate, and he can defend and make offensive plays."
ODDS AND ENDS: Tampa Bay must decide before Thursday's game with Ottawa whether to send LW James Wright back to juniors. Said Tocchet: "He hasn't done anything for him not to be on this team." … RW Marty St. Louis' nine-game point streak is a team record to start a season. ... Ds Lukas Krajicek and Matt Smaby (upper body) also were scratched.