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Boyle's rise is on point

He responds well to a rate and production hike and isn't happy with his first game.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published October 15, 2003

BRANDON - Just how much do 53 points weigh? How about a two-year, $5.05-million contract?

Obviously, they can't be measured by traditional methods. But they can still feel heavy, especially when applied to one's shoulders.

Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle said he hasn't yet felt that pressure.

"But I've been warned about it," he said after Tuesday's practice at the Ice Sports Forum. "When you sign a big deal and things are expected of you, sometimes it tends to hurt some players. Hopefully, that won't be the case."

Boyle was fifth last season among NHL defenseman with 53 points on 13 goals and 40 assists. The reward: a contract that almost tripled his salary.

His part of the bargain is to live up to the standards he set and the expectations that come from being the team's sixth highest-paid player.

"I want to help this team win, that's No. 1," Boyle said. "If I go 30 points and we have a better team year, I think that's going to be a successful year. That's not B.S. I'm serious."

When he is on his game, Boyle, 27, is a joy to watch. He carries the puck out of the offensive zone with speed. And when he reads the play correctly he is as likely to be standing next to an opponent's goal as at the blue line.

He has improved as point man on the power play, and his eight power-play goals last season were fifth on the team. His plus-9 was tied for second. The Lightning did not get Boyle for his defense. He has improved steadily but admits a great defensive game is diminished if he does not at least create some offensive chances.

That is why Boyle was so disturbed by Friday's season-opening 5-1 victory over the Bruins. Both aspects of his game failed.

The Ottawa native had a game-high 21:19 of ice time and an assist. But he had trouble holding the puck in the defensive zone, especially in the first period, and created few offensive opportunities.

"Bottom line, it was very, very poor," he said.

Boyle said he knew during warmups it was going to be a difficult game. He said he felt "hot" in the sold out St. Pete Times Forum. His legs were heavy.

"I almost don't feel comfortable in my skates," he said of the sensation. "I feel passive and question things I do out there. When I'm at my best, I don't question anything. I just go and do it."

Boyle said he can overcome those feelings with a big hit or a nice play.

"But I never got that one play," he said. "And it hurt me."

"Very erratic. A lot of turnovers," coach John Tortorella said. "But sometimes that happens with Danny. I know he's going to work through that. I know he's going to be better (Thursday) against Phoenix."

Okay, time for some perspective.

The Lightning has played one game. And, really, how do you find fault with a player who has one bad game after a standout season and a fine postseason in which Boyle had seven assists and 26 shots on goal in 11 games? But that is how much Boyle means to Tampa Bay.

"I don't always look at points but you still need to produce," Tortorella said. "As a player, you should never stop thinking about being better in all facets of the game. If you think that way, statistically, you will be better."

For Boyle, that means making the simple play on defense instead of creating a fancy, high-risk adventure. It means working diligently to find free ice to maneuver offensively and working even harder to avoid opponents who want to shut down one of the team's offensive sparks.

"I have to create chances and be as steady as I was defensively," Boyle said. "That's the big thing. Points-wise I'd like to have a season like I had. That's what I'm going to try to build on. I want to become the top offensive defenseman. That's my goal."

A weighty one at that.

[Last modified October 15, 2003, 01:33:50]

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