March 29, 2012; Toronto, ON, CANADA; Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Matt Carle (25) against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. Philadelphia defeated Toronto 7-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-US PRESSWIRE

Keys to the Season #3: Defensive Improvement

February 16, 2012; Tampa FL, USA; San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton (19) skates with the puck as Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman (77) attempts to defend during the first period at Tampa Bay Times Forum. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Goalies get all of the headlines when the puck stays out of the net but a huge part of that comes with a strong defense.  This year, the Tampa Bay Lightning have on paper one of the strongest defenses that they have had for quite some time now to start a season.  We all know the names by now, with Victor Hedman, Eric Brewer, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Brian Lee, Keith Aulie and Brendan Mikkelson most likely returning, and new free agent acquisitions Sami Salo and Matt Carle being signed in the off-season;  this group has the potential to provide the Bolts with solid defensive play and the ability to move the puck up the ice to the skilled forwards quickly.

Feb 26, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Vancouver Canucks defenseman Sami Salo (6) skates against the Dallas Stars during the game at the American Airlines Center. The Stars defeated the Canucks 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

Last season, much of the blame went on Dwayne Roloson early, which I thought was unfair.  Sure, he did struggle but many of the goals given up were because of defensive breakdowns, miscommunication, or just horrible luck.  Late in the season after the new defenseman were acquired at the trade deadline, the defense played better and the goaltenders numbers improved greatly, especially Mathieu Garon’s.  This year, the priority of the defense will most likely be to get the puck up the ice as fast as possible.  The less minutes that the Lightning spend in their own end the better, as they can pressure the opposition’s end instead.

I believe Victor Hedman will have a breakout year where he really shows how good he can be both defensively and offensively.  He has that ability to rush the puck up the ice or make crisp passes from end to end.  With Hedman, it’s all about maturing and developing the confidence to know that he can succeed at an elite level in the National Hockey League.  Matt Carle and Sami Salo should have a huge impact on Hedman which will hopefully help him in the maturation process by gaining some knowledge from these two veterans.  Carle and Salo have always been known for their offense and being able to move the puck up the ice quickly and effectively so they will be heavily relied on to show poise with the puck.

For the Lightning to have success this year the defense will have to be a huge part of this year’s team.  As the old saying goes, “Defense wins Championships” has almost always rung true especially with how hockey is played now.  That is why this key is so important because without a strong defense, any team’s season can be completely derailed resulting in more player changes and in a lot of cases coaches being fired.  That is not what anyone wants here in Bolts Nation so it will be imperative for this group of defensemen to step up and contribute in a positive way to this team so that the Lightning can get back on the winning track.

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Tags: Defense Tampa Bay Lightning

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