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Offensive defensemen adding to already potent Lightning lineup

Lightning defensemen have 51 points this season; tied for best in NHL

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

The Tampa Bay Lightning own the top scoring line in the National Hockey League with the scorching trio of Vladislav Namestnikov, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.

Stamkos and Kucherov rank 1-2, respectively, for scoring in the NHL. Kucherov paces the League for goals.

But it's another group that's been contributing offensively for the Lightning and playing a major role in the team's 15-2-2 start, the best in franchise history.

Tampa Bay defensemen have accounted for 51 of the team's 215 total points, the 51 points tied for first in the NHL along with Toronto for blueline scoring. Lightning defensemen have chipped in 14 goals so far this season, good for third in the League among League defensemen groups.

With so many players throughout the forward lineup and now the defensive corps filling up the scoresheet, it's easy to see why the Lightning are the NHL leaders for goals per game, averaging four tallies each time they hit the ice.

"You want your lineup to be as deep as possible, and right now, everybody's doing a good job," Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. "Everybody's playing well. Everybody has accepted the system and their roles. It's a good flow. We're getting good contributions from D and forwards deep down in the lineup, so it's fun."

In Tampa Bay's last outing, a 6-1 victory over the Dallas Stars on Thursday, blueliners Mikhail Sergachev and Jake Dotchin scored goals in the rout. Dotchin's was his second career NHL goal, both coming in the last four games. Sergachev's came at a crucial moment as it was the game-winner and was 1:17 after the Stars leveled the score 1-1 early in the second period.

With five goals on the season, Sergachev already ranks fourth all-time in Lightning history among defensemen for goals in their rookie season behind only Pavel Kubina (9 in 1998-99), Paul Mara (7 in 2000-01) and Roman Hamrlik (6 in 1992-93), and he's only played 19 games.

The fact the Lightning have youngsters contributing at such an early stage of their NHL career only helps to bolster the what was already an offensively-potent defensive group.

"Dotchin's getting a little bit more feel for the League. Dotchin's got two goals on the year, which, we'll take that every 15 games from him," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "But he's got a shot, and the more he shoots, the better chance we're going to have of scoring. So we're really happy with what he's been doing. Sergachev's a little bit of a different animal because he's got offensive instincts that are elite. For these young kids to be able to put forth these talents at this level this early in their career is pretty impressive. A lot of times, you might be taking chances, you might be seeing plays a step or two ahead and it's hard for guys, especially new in the League, because they just don't want to make a mistake. These guys are playing with confidence and they're making plays and it's been really good."

Dotchin needed 50 games in the NHL to score his first goal but now has scored twice in an eight-day span.

"We're going off of what our forwards are doing," Dotchin said. "They're using their speed and getting to the net, giving us a chance to put the puck on net to get it there and get that chance to score. Our speed is kind of showing right now, and we've just got to keep it up."

Lightning blueliners haven't been shirking their defensive responsibilities either. While the defensemen have increased their offensive production of late, goals against have steadily decreased as well. The Bolts have given up two or less goals in four-straight games and five of their last six. Tampa Bay currently ranks tied for second in the league for goals against at 2.42 per game.

They're they only team ranked in the top eight in the NHL for goals per game and goals against per game.

"I think we have a team that's always going to score no matter what. It's just a matter of how we defend. That's the biggest key to our success," Stralman said. "Lately, it's been real good, everything from losing the puck offensively and tracking back hard to get it back early and the D can have good gaps in the neutral zone and we win a lot of pucks high up in the ice. It doesn't necessarily have to go in our zone all the time and get the puck back. That helps out. You play D right when you lose the puck no matter where it is, and we're doing a good job at getting the pucks back."

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