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Wednesday, Nov 26, 2014
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning Defense Finally Fully Healthy

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Published:   |   Updated: March 23, 2013 at 04:25 PM
TAMPA -

For what seems like the first time in a month, the Lightning have dressed a full complement of defensemen in consecutive games.

With the return of Paul Ranger on Tuesday and Matt Smaby on Thursday from injury, they have six healthy defensemen in the lineup, which alleviates some of the ice time being logged by Andrej Meszaros, Steve Eminger and Lukas Krajicek, which has been between 25 and 30 minutes recently.

When the Lightning were battling injuries on the blue line, patching a unit together with call-ups Ty Wishart, Kevin Quick and Vladimir Mihalik along with converted forward David Koci, the team's top three defensemen were over 25 minutes on almost a nightly basis.

In Thursday's game at Carolina, none of the defensemen were above 25 minutes, with Meszaros logging a team-high 24 minutes, 39 seconds.

"We've been asking a lot out of some of those guys, and in the short term, you can get away with it," Lightning interim coach Rick Tocchet said. "But after a while it can get dicey. I think getting Smaby back, he can help eat up some minutes and lessen the load of some other guys."

SAVING FACE: Through his 10-year career, faceoffs have not been considered one of C Vinny Lecavalier's strengths. Entering this season, Lecavalier's career faceoff winning percentage was 45.3 percent and only once has the captain finished above 49 percent, that coming in 2005-06 when his winning percentage was 51.2 percent. And of his nine seasons, Lecavalier has finished below 45 percent six times.

Each of the past four seasons, including this year, Lecavalier has shown steady improvement, with a 49 percent winning percentage since coming out of the lockout. Entering Friday, Lecavalier was at 50.3 percent this season and has had some dominating performances, such as winning 13 of 18 Thursday in Carolina while matched up most of the night against Matt Cullen, a 51 percent faceoff winner.

What's been part of Lecavalier's improvement?

"I've tried to cheat a little bit more," he said. "I know that LW Vinny Prospal is there and he's good on faceoffs so I try to cheat as much as I can and get as much of an edge as I can.

"Faceoffs are such an important part of the game, especially now with the faceoffs coming in the offensive zone after a penalty is called and when you win, it helps get everything set up."

HEARTS AND PUCKS: The team will auction off a Valentine's package for a special luncheon to be held on Feb. 11 at Icons Restaurant. Each package includes lunch and a gift package to be delivered by two Lightning players that includes flowers, candy, a bottle of wine, Lightning-themed jewelry, bath and body products, a pair of plaza-level tickets to a game, a 5x7 picture frame, autographed hockey stick, puck and jersey.

Bidding will begin Sunday at 6 p.m. and close at midnight on Thursday.

Player pairings for the package are: Marty St. Louis and Paul Szczechura; Lecavalier and Krajicek; Steven Stamkos and Ryan Craig; Olie Kolzig and Adam Hall; Mike Smith and Eminger; Ryan Malone and Smaby; Prospal and Koci; Ranger and Matt Pettinger; Meszaros and Jussi Jokinen; Mark Recchi and Jeff Halpern; Evgeny Artyukhin and Marek Malik.

NUTS AND BOLTS: Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice attended Friday's game. ... The game was delayed about four minutes at the 8:46 mark of the second period when the lights in the arena dimmed. ... Prospal played in his 435th game with the Lightning, tied with Mikael Andersson for ninth on the franchise all-time list.

Erik Erlendsson

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