SUNRISE — The moment is so small and happens so quickly, it is just about unnoticeable unless one watches for it. But Lightning players know it when they feel it.
Right wing Marty St. Louis pushing his stick against their backsides to accelerate their getting back on defense.
"He gives you that little extra push," rookie Steven Stamkos said.
St. Louis is an offensive force, but it is his commitment to defense that made him, entering Friday, one of just eight players to lead their teams in points and plus-minus.
"I try to be a complete player on both sides of the red line," said St. Louis, who has 67 points, with 25 goals, and is plus-6.
Besides, he added, "Offense comes from good defensive positioning."
Plus-minus is a tricky statistic in that it depends so much on one's teammates and situations that can be out of one's control.
In short, a plus is awarded for being on the ice when a player's team scores. A minus is assessed for being on the ice when the opposition scores. So in a season in which Tampa Bay has been outscored 175-224, a differential of minus-49, being plus-6 is pretty extraordinary.
It's even more so for St. Louis, one of the Lightning's top special teams players, because minuses are assessed when a team allows a power-play goal, but there are no pluses for goals scored with a man advantage, of which St. Louis has seven.
"It's an overrated stat," St. Louis said. "Sometimes you step on the ice and you get scored on. Sometimes you could be doing your job and they score."
Still, he said, "I try to take pride in where I stand in that department. I'd be upset if I was minus-7, minus-10."
That St. Louis, 33, does such a good job defensively is not news to coaches or teammates. But his grunt work generally goes unnoticed outside the locker room.
"I'd put him up against anybody in the league," coach Rick Tocchet said. "Protect a goal or put pressure on somebody, he'd be the guy you put out there."
Why is St. Louis so effective?
"His speed is world class, and he's able to negate any rush," said Stamkos, who tonight against the Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center will play on a line with St. Louis and Ryan Malone. "If I'm caught or Bugsy is caught, he's always flying back. And he's so smart, he knows how to read the play so well."
"He catches up with loose pucks," Tocchet said. "He has the knack to get in there and get low and come up with the puck."
The indoctrination began when St. Louis played from 1998-2000 for the Flames and coach Brian Sutter. A record-setting offensive threat at the University of Vermont, St. Louis was given a third-line checking role.
"That was probably the best thing for me," he said. "Until then, I played with the puck all the time. You get to the NHL, and unless you're scoring 40 goals, you have to play both sides of the ice. To learn it the first year or two of my career was good."
Seven years with coach John Tortorella reinforced it. "And even this year," St. Louis said of playing for Tocchet, associate coach Mike Sullivan and assistant Wes Walz.
"I've had coaches who make sure I battle on both sides of the ice, and it was implanted in my game. Now it comes naturally."
Watch for it.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.