TAMPA — C Blair Jones has played just 10 games with the Lightning this season, but the 23-year-old is quickly earning the trust of his coaches.
Jones has performed well on the penalty kill, blocking shots and doing the little things, which has led to coach Rick Tocchet putting him on the ice at key times.
The third-year pro was depended on to help hold the lead in Monday's 2-1 win over the Bruins, and he had one of the better scoring chances if overtime in Wednesday's 2-1 loss to the Canadiens.
"He's done a real nice job for us," Tocchet said. "For me, I'm looking for a player that can get the puck out along the wall (and) block shots. We're looking for intangible players, and he's added that. I can trust him on the ice. … When you have those intangibles that he (has), it's a quicker way to the NHL for him, absolutely."
Jones said though he's used to being a scorer in the minors and juniors, he realized he had to focus on his defensive play and those intangibles if he wanted to crack the Lightning roster. Jones, Tampa Bay's fourth-round draft pick in 2005, saw his most ice time of the season Wednesday (15 minutes, 48 seconds).
"The stuff they need is on the lower lines, so I started working on more defensive stuff that maybe I wouldn't if I was in another situation," he said. "It was the stuff I had to do to get here, so I'm going to keep sticking with it."
Jones said he's here to "finish my checks, make smart plays, block shots," and he blocked two by Atlanta's high-scoring Ilya Kovalchuck on Saturday. Jones, who has played 34 NHL games, said his offense will come as his confidence gets stronger.
"It's a lot of hard work, but it's a good feeling when (Tocchet) trusts you to be on the ice at key times late in games," Jones said. "Whether it's penalty kill or a big situation, I'm always up for the challenge."
POINT OF EMPHASIS: The Lightning spent part of Thursday's practice focusing on four-on-four play and scoring on two-on-one chances, both areas Tocchet said have been subpar. Tampa Bay have struggled in overtime, which are played four-on-four.
"Four-on-four and two-on-one play wins hockey games, and there's a reason we're not winning those games," Tocchet said. "We don't score on four-on-four, that is something, to me, is mental toughness. It's something you have to stick with and concentrate in practice with."
OLYMPIC TIME: The United States Olympic team will be announced today, and there's a good possibility that LW Ryan Malone could be one of the names called. Malone ranks second on the Lightning in goals (19) and entered Thursday leading the NHL with seven winners.
"He's been playing well, putting up some good offensive numbers and been responsible defensively, a good penalty killer," linemate Steven Stamkos said. "He should definitely make that team."