After the 4-2 victory over Dallas Jan.19, Eminger was named one of the three stars without registering a point.
Eminger is the top scorer for the Lightning defense, with four goals and 14 assists, but he is impressing coaches with his all-around play as his role increases. With injuries depleting the defense corps, Eminger averaged almost 27 minutes the last four games before the All-Star break and he has prospered from the added time.
“The last month, he really has anchored our defense and played a lot of minutes,” Lightning Interim Head Coach Rick Tocchet said.
“He played a strong game against Dallas. He was one of our bright spots in the first two periods when we didn’t have much energy. … Going back for the puck, his decision-making has been better. He took two big hits [against Dallas], kept the puck and got it to our center to get it out of the zone. That’s the stuff we’re looking for.”
The Lightning may just be benefitting from a defenseman turning the corner in his career. Eminger came into the league highly regarded as the 12th pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft by Washington after scoring 19 goals and 58 points in 64 games for Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League in 2001-02. The Woodbridge , Ont. native played 212 games in parts of six seasons for the Caps before being traded to Philadelphia last off-season.
Eminger, 25, said this season was a new start for him. He played 12 games with the Flyers before being traded to the Lightning with Steve Downie for defenseman Matt Carle early in November. Eminger filled the Lightning's need for a right-hand shot on the blueline and he has played more than 20 minutes in 27 of 33 games. He played 20 minutes in three of 12 for Philadelphia.
“I feel a lot more comfortable now,” Eminger said. “It takes some time to adjust to a different team. As a whole, it took this team a little more time this season just because of all the new faces here. We’re starting to come around.”
Since Christmas, Eminger has been a plus-5 and the team is 9-5-1 in its past 15. He had a goal and two assists against Florida Dec. 26 and was plus-4 against Florida the next night. Through those 12 games (he missed two with an injury), Eminger has not played less than 21 minutes.
It takes some time to adjust to a different team. As a whole, it took this team a little more time this season just because of all the new faces here. We’re starting to come around. - Steve Eminger
He played 28:46 in 38 shifts against Dallas, was a plus-2 and waved to the crowd after being named the third star.
“It was nice to be recognized,” Eminger said. “I felt good that game. As a whole, everyone contributed on defense.”
Eminger logged 29:40 in 37 shifts with a goal two nights later.
“When you are playing those kinds of minutes, you don’t have time to think,” Eminger said. “You react and you get in a good rhythm. It gets you into the game a lot easier. You feel better and you play better.”
Those minutes will likely drop a bit when Paul Ranger, Marek Malik and Matt Smaby are back from injuries, but Eminger has shown the ability to raise his game when needed.
“Any player wants to be out there in important situations,” Eminger said. “That’s the part of hockey you play for, to be that guy that can help the team win.”
Eminger has the ability to jump in and help the attack, but he said he gains just as much confidence from a solid all-around game as a two or three-point effort. At 6-feet-2, 212 pounds, he can take the hits in his own zone and has the speed to take the puck end to end. It would be great to score 20 goals, but Eminger said his main goal is to grow as a player and become consistent.
“He’s a competitor on the ice,” Lightning goalie Mike Smith said. “He does a lot of good things that go unnoticed. He’s a solid player and he’s getting better and better.”
Eminger has already equaled his career high in points. He had five goals and 18 points in 2005-06 for the Caps, a year after he spent the entire season in the minors.
Tocchet said in December it was a nice trade for the Lightning.
“He’s bounced around a bit, got scratched in Washington,” Tocchet said. “I think he’s settling in here, knowing that he can be an established defenseman for us.”