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

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. Rays journal: Erasmo Ramirez ready to start a day after closing game

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — RHP Erasmo Ramirez was on the mound to finish Sunday's 15-inning marathon win over the Twins and will start tonight's game against the Rangers.

    The Rays’ Erasmo Ramirez throws 12 pitches in the 15th inning against the Twins to earn the save then says after the game that he’s ready to make his scheduled start against the Rangers: “My arm feels good.”
  2. Rays exhausted but happy after 15-inning win over Twins (w/video)

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — Before the Rays eventually won Sunday's 6½-hour, 15-inning marathon against the Twins 8-6, they did plenty to lose it. And we need to get that out of the way first.

    The Rays’ Evan Longoria enjoys a laugh after scoring, barely, to tie it in the ninth on Steven Souza Jr.’s two-out single.
  3. Tom Jones' Two Cents: ABC's Indy 500 coverage is stellar again

    TV and Radio

    Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

    Best coverage

    Takuma Sato left, celebrates after winning the Indianapolis 500 as Helio Castroneves is a little late passing him. ABC’s coverage of the race is stellar throughout, with plenty of extras but no fake drama.
  4. Takuma Sato surprise winner of wreck-filled Indy 500

    Auto racing

    INDIANAPOLIS — Takuma Sato, a journeyman driver, became the first Japanese winner of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday when he held off three-time champion Helio Castroneves in a 230-mph wheel-rubbing duel to the finish.

    Scott Dixon’s car goes over the top of Jay Howard, soaring so high that Helio Castroneves drove under it while it was airborne. Stunningly, there were no serious injuries.
  5. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Sunday's Rays-Twins game

    The Heater

    The Rays won because they got two innings of good relief from each of the two pitchers who contributed to them losing Saturday's game, Danny Farquhar (who again struck out Miguel Sano) and Tommy Hunter, who both posted zeroes.