TAMPA — Throughout several combination shuffles this season, Pat Maroon has been the foundation of the Lightning’s fourth line.
Over the course of a decade-long NHL career, Maroon has shared shifts with all types of players. Now, the “Big Rig” finds himself leading two promising youngsters, 24-year-olds Mathieu Joseph and Ross Colton.
In their short time together, the trio has found magic doing the little things that good checking lines do — winning puck battles, maintaining possession and frustrating the opposition with physical play. Maroon sets the tone, whether it’s by fighting for a puck down low, playing big in front of the net, feeding an open teammate or defending one with his fists.
He’s 6 feet, 3 inches, 238 pounds of momentum.
“He’s an excellent teammate,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But he also makes the guys stand a little bit taller on the bench and a little bit taller when they’re on the ice. He’s stepped up and stood up for his teammates, literally. ... Pat is a veteran in the league, he plays that down-low game, and he can really help you out in the offensive zone with just the possession time.”
Ice time is limited for the fourth-liners, but Maroon has made a huge impact, nonetheless. Over the previous seven games entering Saturday’s contest in Carolina, he got into two fights, assisted on three goals and provided a spark that can’t be quantified.
“He plays the right away, plays hard, and he goes to the dirty areas,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “And as of late, they’ve been scoring some big goals for us. And Pat is a big reason why that line is going, and he kind of drives that line, and with (Colton) and (Joseph), they have been tremendous together.”
For Maroon, fourth-line success is about establishing an identity, and this trio has.
Colton, who has quickly emerged as a contributor just seven games into his NHL career, shares Maroon’s blue-collar mentality of working down low for pucks but also has the skating ability to be a scoring presence.
Joseph, one of the Lightning’s fastest skaters on the ice, has shown an uncanny knack for finding space where Maroon can get him the puck, whether it’s a stretch pass down the ice or a feed from behind the net. He also isn’t afraid to get physical.
“The top three lines, especially the top two lines, have a ton of skill,” Maroon said. “You want to have an identity as a fourth line. You just don’t want to be a fourth line that just goes out there and puts your skates on. You want to find a way to create energy for your team, so our line is supposed to create the momentum to get our team going.
“If we score a big goal, we chip in there, but our identity is getting pucks in, don’t turn pucks over, don’t get scored on, wear the opposition down. Whatever it takes for my teammates to make them stand taller. I’m just not out there, I want to help them succeed, chip away, score some goals, just find an identity for yourself and your linemates.”
Maroon certainly carries credibility. Being a member of the past two Stanley Cup champions will do that — he won the Cup with his hometown Blues in 2018-19 before joining the Lightning last season.
Joseph said having Maroon as a linemate helps him play with more confidence.
“He brings so much in our line,” Joseph said. “He’s so good behind the net, and they can’t move him, honestly. Teams are having trouble handling him. It’s been good playing with Patty, and the more we play together I feel like the more we can kind of get a vibe of each other. It’s been great to have this veteran presence to keep me on the right track, too.”
Colton has found reassurance from Maroon on and off the ice. Maroon’s message is straightforward: keep the puck in the offensive zone and keep things simple. Hold the puck, don’t take risks, take pucks to the net, get them to the point, work for second and third shots.
“He’s been in my ear since game one and just telling me, ‘Play your game. Don’t overthink it or don’t try to do too much. Don’t be scared out there, play with confidence because you deserve to be here,’” Colton said. “Even after a shift, if we’re in the D-zone for a little bit, he’s coming back to the bench just telling me to stay positive and stick with it.”
“It’s not always about scoring. It’s kind of just creating momentum for the other lines so they’re getting offensive-zone shifts and offensive-zone faceoffs. Whatever we can do to help the team win is a positive for us, and I think we have some good chemistry out there.”
While Maroon’s always embraced the dirty work, he was a 27-goal scorer just four years ago playing in Edmonton alongside Connor McDavid. But he’s never gotten away from the lunch-pail player that he is, and he loves that role.
“I never really veered away from that,” Maroon said. “It was fun. I was always a numbers guy throughout my career, and then at the NHL level, you just kind of find a way to buy in the system and try to stay in the league, and that’s what I was trying to do. You’ve just got to stick with it. That’s my style of play, so I just never tried to get away from it.”
Said Cooper, “He’s kind of seen it all. He’s been there, done that. He’s played in the league. He’s been a healthy scratch, he’s had to claw his way back in, and now he’s your two-time Cup champ. He’s a pretty good guy to be around if you’re a young guy.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.
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