Goal vs. Buffalo Sabres shows Tampa Bay Lightning rookie defenseman Victor Hedman's growing confidence

Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman, staring down Sabres center Paul Gaustad on Wednesday, says he continues to grow comfortable with the faster game played in North America.

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Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman, staring down Sabres center Paul Gaustad on Wednesday, says he continues to grow comfortable with the faster game played in North America.

NEWARK, N.J. — Victor Hedman said he took no satisfaction in his goal Wednesday against the Sabres.

Yes, the end-to-end rush was thrilling. And the wrist shot that beat goaltender Ryan Miller high on the stick side should be required viewing for anyone who has held a hockey stick.

But the 5-3 loss at Buffalo's HSBC Arena ruined the mood.

"We lost the game and didn't get any points," Hedman said, "so it really doesn't matter much at all."

Oh, but it does, because the skating, puck-handling and shooting skills he displayed are a good indication of the potential on which Hedman sits.

And after a game lost through individual breakdowns — "bonehead plays," Rick Tocchet called them — the Lightning coach said this about the 6-foot-6 Swede:

"He was one of our solid players; 19-year-old kid played well for us."

So perhaps we should take stock.

With four goals and 13 points in 40 games, Hedman is on pace for eight and 26, more than Kings defenseman Drew Doughty had in his rookie season. And Doughty, 20, in his second year, was named to Canada's Olympic team.

Hedman's 22:13 average ice time is second among rookies. His 40 penalty minutes were fifth entering Thursday, so he doesn't mind getting his nose dirty. He also likes to be involved offensively, and his 52 shots were second among rookie defensemen.

Hedman can get out of position and occasionally is beaten to the middle of the ice, but that is inexperience.

"The sky's the limit for him," Tocchet said. "We can live with his mistakes. But he's competing and wants to be out there, and that's all you can ask. He's not hiding, and that's a great quality."

He can skate, too.

"He can really lug the puck," Tampa Bay defenseman Kurtis Foster said. "When he's skating, he can do some magic out there."

There were no smoke and mirrors on Wednesday's goal.

Hedman, a half-step behind the play in the Lightning zone, used his reach to deflect Thomas Vanek's pass. He outhustled Mike Grier to the puck and skated past several Sabres to initiate a two-on-one with Steve Downie.

"I just wanted to carry the puck inside the (Sabres') blue line and look for a pass," Hedman said. "But the D took away the passing lane, so I had to shoot it."

Miller still hasn't moved on the shot that beat him short side.

"It was beautiful," Sabres defenseman Henrik Tallinder said. "He put it in exactly the right spot."

"A hell of a shot," Tocchet said. "We're talking one of the best goalies in the league. A big-time shot to get it by that guy."

The Lightning faces perhaps the game's greatest all-time goalie, New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, tonight at the Prudential Center.

Regardless of the opponent, Hedman said he might not have pulled off his stellar play earlier in the season.

Playing his first season in North America, he said it took time to get used to the speed of the game.

"This was the confidence. My head was up," Hedman said of the goal. "The game has slowed down, in my mind. I'm not forcing plays. Just do it naturally."

There is, he said, some satisfaction in that.

TONIGHT

Lightning at Devils

When/where: 7; Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.

TV/radio: Sun Sports; 620-AM

Key stats: Tampa Bay has lost 10 straight to the Devils (0-4-6), eight by one goal. … New Jersey, No. 1 in the East, has won nine of 10 at home, including six straight. … G Martin Brodeur leads the league with 27 victories and entered Thursday tied for the lead with five shutouts. … The Devils are 11-3-0 against the Southeast.

Goal vs. Buffalo Sabres shows Tampa Bay Lightning rookie defenseman Victor Hedman's growing confidence 01/07/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 8, 2010 7:08am]

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