Defensemen earn praise from coach

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
Published November 15, 2007

TAMPA - All things considered, coach John Tortorella said, Lightning defensemen "are playing their butts off."

It was an impromptu pat on the back for a squad counting heavily on youth among its top six with Shane O'Brien, 24; Mike Lundin, 23; Paul Ranger, 23; and Doug Janik, 27, who has played just 95 NHL games.

With the loss of free agents Cory Sarich and Nolan Pratt and the injury to Dan Boyle, the upheaval has been significant.

"So we're going to have some ups and downs," Tortorella said.

Take O'Brien, who with four goals has added an offensive spark but can be loose with the puck and is trying to stay out of the penalty box.

"O.B. is a throwback," Tortorella said. "He loves playing, and he's going to do some dumb things through his enthusiasm. But I'd rather have a player be overenthusiastic and overwilling and try to put the reins on him and calm him down."

There weren't too many downs Wednesday against Carolina.

O'Brien played 23:56 and was plus-2. Lundin played 20:18, more than six minutes above his average, and with two assists had his first multipoint game. Filip Kuba was plus-4 and is plus-13 for the season.

Ranger had a goal and an assist, and Brad Lukowich played 21:14 and was plus-1.

They accounted for 11 of the team's 16 blocked shots.

"They're triers," Tortorella said. "I like the way they've stood up."

FIGHT CARD: It has been nine games since Andre Roy's last fight. Not that he isn't trying.

The enforcer challenged Atlanta's Garnet Exelby after a cheap shot on Vinny Lecavalier and Florida's Bryan Allen after he ran Vinny Prospal.

Roy, who has three fights this season, said he wouldn't mind throwing punches now and then just to let off a little steam but added, "I don't need to go out like a wing nut, as Torts would say, and try to fight everybody.

"It's about playing the game and playing physical, and if I have to (fight), I know when to do it."

HAPPY THANKSGIVING: Brad Richards, through his foundation, hosted several military families for an early Thanksgiving dinner Monday at Tampa Palms Golf & Country Club.

"I don't really want to talk about it," the center said. "I don't want to make a big deal out of it. It was nice. It was intimate."

ODDS AND ENDS: The Lightning is 7-1-1 at home. ... Richards had his third NHL fight and first since October 2006 against Florida's Olli Jokinen.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.