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Tampa Bay Lightning's Mattias Ohlund says he has room to improve

TAMPA — There is a lot to like about his first season with the Lightning, Mattias Ohlund said.

The kids made a smooth transition after leaving their friends in Vancouver, and they don't complain about going to school in shorts and T-shirts. The house has a pool, something not standard issue in Canada's southwest corner.

And being part of a playoff race? Can't beat that.

Still, something is missing, the defenseman said: "Hockey-wise, I obviously have not had a good year so far. I've had my moments where I've felt pretty good, but I don't think it's been a great year."

Quite an admission from Tampa Bay's marquee free agent acquisition, who last summer, after spending his entire 11-year NHL career with the Canucks, signed a seven-year, $25.25 million contract.

Funny thing, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Defensive partner Mike Lundin couldn't say enough about how "responsible and reliable" Ohlund is on the ice. Rookie defenseman Victor Hedman said his fellow Swede has been "outstanding" guiding him through the ins and outs of his first North American season.

And coach Rick Tocchet said adding Ohlund brought instant "credibility" to a rebuilding blue line.

"We had to get someone in here quickly to stabilize everything, and we accomplished that," Tocchet said.

"He's a pro. He prepares himself, and he's an even-keel guy. He doesn't get too excited when we win and doesn't get too low when we lose. It's a calming influence."

The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder, who averages a team-best 23:24 of ice time, also is a ferocious hitter. Just ask Toronto's Phil Kessel.

For Ohlund, 33, the trouble is on offense. With zero goals and 10 assists, this could end up his worst offensive season. And he never had a year without a goal.

Part of it is Ohlund is not on the power play, where he was often in Vancouver. Ohlund said he is "fine" with how he is being used — hard to argue with slap shots of Kurtis Foster and Andrej Meszaros in the high slot — and the onus is on him to "find a way to be more productive."

What better time than tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum when he faces his former Canucks teammates for the first time.

"I'm excited about it. It should be fun," Ohlund said. "I played with some of those guys for a long time. But once the puck drops, we need the two points, so that's my main concern."

Really, it probably will be the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, the Canucks' top two in points who present varied problems Lundin and Ohlund seem prepared to handle.

Lundin and Ohlund complement each other well.

Lundin's quickness compensates for Ohlund's admittedly diminishing foot speed, so he can challenge the Sedins in open ice.

Ohlund, who will play for Sweden in the Olympics, is better in tight spaces where he can use his strength and positioning; good attributes against the Sedins, who also like to cycle.

Even so, Ohlund said controlling the Sedins is a five-man game. Same on offense, he said. Everyone must chip in, including himself.

"Can he play better in certain situations? Yeah, some puck-handling, offensively," Tocchet said.

"Remember, we're playing him against the top guys all the time. We're not looking for him to be Paul Coffey out there instead of being Mattias Ohlund, and that's being a solid guy back there."

Parrish on waivers: Norfolk's Mark Parrish is on waivers, indicating Tampa Bay wants to sign the right wing to a minor-league or two-way contract. Parrish, 33, a former NHL All-Star, is on his second tryout contract with the AHL Admirals. He has 12 goals and 25 points in 42 games. We will know at noon today if he clears.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Lightning's Mattias Ohlund says he has room to improve 02/08/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 1:05am]
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