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Tampa Bay Lightning looking for defensemen to develop fast

Pavel Kubina, right, going against Florida’s David Booth in the preseason, says Tampa Bay defensemen sharing more on-ice responsibility is “an opportunity for everyone.”

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Pavel Kubina, right, going against Florida’s David Booth in the preseason, says Tampa Bay defensemen sharing more on-ice responsibility is “an opportunity for everyone.”

BRANDON — The Lightning has more than enough depth on the blue line to handle any emergency, defenseman Brett Clark said.

And wouldn't you know it, two days before the season opens, Tampa Bay has one.

Mattias Ohlund, with a painful right knee, is on injured reserve and will miss at least Friday's opener at Carolina.

"You never replace a guy like that," Clark said of the big Swede, who last season averaged 18:43 minutes of ice time and was a mainstay on the penalty kill. "Everybody will step up and contribute a little more."

Sounds easy enough, but coach Guy Boucher's take is a bit more ominous. Not only will the remaining defensemen log more ice time, but roles and responsibilities will change, perhaps putting players in situations in which they are not familiar.

"It's going to make the rest of our defense swallow more than what they have done in the past," Boucher said Tuesday at the Ice Sports Forum. "Very often when you take guys out of their roles and give them too much to chew on, it becomes difficult."

That is why, Boucher added, "We're looking for guys to develop fast."

Victor Hedman, for example, will be elevated to the first pairing with Eric Brewer, with whom he will face opponents' top lines. The pairings of Clark and Matt Gilroy and Pavel Kubina and Marc-Andre Bergeron will have their chances to go after the second lines.

There is an opening on the penalty kill.

Talk all you want about how Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson, at 41 the league's oldest player, may or may not hold up this season, the defense — with Ohlund out for "nobody knows how long," Kubina said — has as many questions, if not more, to answer.

"It's a lot of responsibility on everybody," Kubina said. "But you prepare the same for every game, and you go and do your job if you're playing against the first line or checking line. I don't think it's more pressure. It's an opportunity for everybody."

"It's the same for all the NHL teams," Bergeron said. "Every single one has obstacles to face."

Dealing with injuries isn't new for this group. Ohlund missed last season's first eight games because of his knees. Randy Jones, now with the Jets, missed the final 16. Mike Lundin, now with the Wild, missed 13.

Having Brewer, last season's trade-deadline acquisition, from the start of the season will help add stability. Still, it will be interesting to see how newcomers Gilroy and Bruno Gervais, who likely will start as the No. 7 defenseman, handle the added responsibility while adapting to Tampa Bay's system.

Gilroy especially has to tame his offensive instincts, though Boucher noted his improvement during training camp.

"Right now," Boucher said, "we're looking for guys to do more on defense."

"Some of us are going to get different roles," Clark said, "and different ice times and playing against different players. You have to be ready from the get-go."

That's how to handle an emergency.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @LightningTimes.

Tampa Bay Lightning looking for defensemen to develop fast 10/04/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 5, 2011 12:05am]
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