Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Patchwork defense keeps Tampa Bay Lightning afloat

By Damian Cristodero

TAMPA — Steve Eminger said he never played a game like it, and Cory Murphy agreed it was unique.

Lightning defensemen had no set partners Monday against the Stars. On one shift, Eminger and Murphy might have been together. On the next, Eminger might have been with David Koci or Andrej Meszaros or … anyone.

By the end of the 4-2 victory, each defenseman played with the five other blue-liners.

"I wasn't doing much thinking about who I was playing with," Eminger said. "You just play."

Said coach Rick Tocchet: "It's almost like you have to laugh about it."

This is what happens when you have as many injuries as Tampa Bay's defense. Minor-leaguers are promoted, waiver pickups are added, and the coaching staff has to figure out who plays best with whom.

Sometimes it is better just to rotate players. The Lightning played three defensive regulars against the Stars with a converted forward, a rookie in his fourth NHL game and a waiver pickup who made it to the arena two hours before the puck dropped.

The rotation allowed associate coach Mike Sullivan, who runs the defense, to fit in Murphy, claimed off re-entry waivers from the Panthers, and limit the minutes of Koci, a forward until about 10 days ago, and rookie Kevin Quick.

But it put pressure on the regulars to log substantially more minutes.

Eminger, averaging 21:17, played 28:46. Lukas Krajicek, averaging 17:02, played 25:31. Meszaros, averaging 24:33, played 26:10.

"There's obviously more pressure, and I think sometimes guys are put into roles they don't expect," Eminger said. "But for myself, not that I like that there's injuries, but I like the fact I'm playing a lot. I like the pressure. I like to be counted on. I think I play better in those situations."

"It's just part of the deal," Krajicek said. "You have to be ready to play 100 percent on every shift."

It may not change any time soon. For tonight's game with the Sabres at the St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa Bay likely is again without Jamie Heward (concussion), Paul Ranger (upper body), Marek Malik (ankle) and Matt Smaby (lower body).

It also has been without Eminger (upper body) and Krajicek (fingers), and the only reason Meszaros did not miss a game after taking 64 stitches in his face and mouth after being hit with a puck was force of will.

Since Dec. 27, there have been nine transactions involving defensemen from AHL Norfolk, including Tuesday's in which Quick was returned to the Admirals and Ty Wishart was called up for the second time.

Despite the turmoil, the Lightning is on an 8-5-1 run and has won four of its past six.

"Once you get into the game, you just react and play," Murphy said. "A lot of talking and trying to keep it simple."

And some help from the forwards, who have bolstered the stressed blue line by coming back more to the defensive zone to help get the puck.

"I give them a lot of credit," Tocchet said of his patchwork defense, but added, "We really have to play, not mistake-free, but as a five-man unit. If you don't, you're in trouble."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]

Patchwork defense keeps Tampa Bay Lightning afloat 01/21/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 12:02am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. NCAA coaches among 10 charged with fraud and corruption


    NEW YORK — Four college basketball coaches were among those facing federal charges Tuesday in a wide probe of fraud and corruption in the NCAA, authorities said.

    These file photos show, assistant basketball coaches Tony Bland, left, Chuck Person, center, and Lamont Richardson.  The three, along with assistant coach Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State, were identified in court papers and are among 10 people facing federal charges in Manhattan federal court, Tuesday in a wide probe of fraud and corruption in the NCAA, authorities said. [AP photo]
  2. Steinbrenner alum Erika Peitersen makes instant impact for UT soccer


    TAMPA — University of Tampa women's soccer coach Erin Switalski said it's always difficult to predict a freshman's performance.

    University of Tampa midfielder/forward Erika Peitersen (Courtesy of UT)
  3. Donald Trump calls for NFL to set a rule forbidding players from kneeling during national anthem


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is up and tweeting, and his target is the NFL.

    The Dallas Cowboys, led by owner Jerry Jones, center, take a knee prior to the national anthem prior to an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Monday in Glendale, Ariz. [AP photo]
  4. No gimmes in scrappy Wiregrass Ranch's volleyball district

    Volleyball Preps

    WESLEY CHAPEL — Wiregrass Ranch High coach Michelle Davis is realistic about her volleyball team this season. They will scrap for every point. They will never give up. They will encourage each other no matter what.

     Wiregrass Ranch High School girls volleyball player Jaizah Anderson (2) gets ready to spike the ball during Thursday's (9/21/17) match with Zephyrhills High School in Zephyrhills, Fla.
  5. Steelers' Villanueva apologizes, says he didn't intend to stand alone during anthem (w/video)


    PITTSBURGH — Alejandro Villanueva just wanted to get a glimpse of the American flag, the symbol he wore on his military uniform during three tours in Afghanistan before beginning an unlikely journey from Army Ranger to the NFL.

    Alejandro Villanueva stands alone during the national anthem at Soldier Field in Chicago. [Associated Press]