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Camp Stories To Watch: Blue Line Additions

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

It appears Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman knew there was potential for high reward when he signed free agent defensemen Matt Carle and Sami Salo during the summer’s offseason.

Sure, both individuals are expected to improve the Lightning blue line, but it isn’t long into any conversation before one realizes that the duo might be just as good at the other end, too.

Carle, for one, returns to Tampa Bay as a more experienced player whose most notable asset perhaps is that he is capable of moving the puck out of his own zone, while Salo is capable of playing better than his market value due to his commodity of a right-handed shot and his ability to quarterback the power play.

So, for as much as the Lightning combated with blown defensive-zone coverages last season, the additions of both Carle and Salo should help alleviate not only that, but also spark what was an inconsistent transition game, in which the Bolts blue-liners often struggled to move the puck out of the defensive zone and up to the forwards.

“There’s no doubt that both Matt and Sami will be great additions to our defense,” Yzerman said. “But their ability to play in all situations will also help us in other aspects of the game.”

Such as rectifying a frustrating inability that many times resulted in lengthy and physically draining puck possessions by opponents in the Lightning’s own end. In fact, Yzerman noted that at times last season, the club utilized different tactics to get the puck out of its own zone, but still had trouble moving it up the ice on several occasions.

For Carle and Salo, however, the solution to that just might rely on an aspect that head coach Guy Boucher already relies heavily on: speed.

Since defensemen are no longer able to use the clutch and grab technique that proved both useful and popular prior to the 2004-05 lockout season to slow down forechecking opponents, today’s game dictates, if not requires, that blue-liners be mobile in order to efficiently play the position.

With that comes the ability to make quick decisions with the puck, including making the ever-important first pass out of the defensive zone to get the puck up.

The strategy, if executed properly, is two-fold.

On one hand, the transition game from defense to offense should run more smoothly and creates more scoring chances at the attacking end. On the other, forwards are no longer forced to retreat back into their own end to retrieve and skate the puck up themselves, which otherwise saps energy and wastes time.

The Lightning spent the offseason bolstering their blue line with veteran acquisitions Matt Carle and Sami Salo.

With that said, it was no secret as to why Carle was the likely the second-most coveted free agent defenseman after Ryan Suter.

In addition to logging top-four minutes, Carle has proven he can also chip in on the offensive end, as he registered four goals and 38 points last season in 82 games with the Flyers. Three of those goals and 12 of those points, nonetheless, came on the power play.

And what about his play back behind the blue line?

He is reliable defensively, as he led Philadelphia with a plus-30 rating two seasons ago, albeit he finished this past season at plus-four, and has ranked either first or second on the Flyers in that category in two of the past three seasons.

Likewise, Salo had 93 goals and 305 points in 13 seasons with both the Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks, and blocks shots with a 6-foot-3 frame that should prove invaluable in front of the Bolts net minders.

To boot, both have expressed a desire to jump right in and to perform as responsible two-way players, of which Boucher is a huge fan.

“I had a lot of conversations with Steve Yzerman and I could hear the passion in his voice about what he was trying to do here,” Carle said. “I’ve seen the intensity level from the coaching staff and that the team here is not too far removed from being one game away from the Stanley Cup Finals, so now with a few new pieces added here and there, that will hopefully get the team over the top.”

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