The Tampa Bay Lightning set out on a mission to upgrade their defense this past offseason. They did just that, adding two veteran defensemen in Sami Salo and Matt Carle, who haven’t disappointed. Obviously joining a new team is never easy but both players, especially Salo, have handled the transition quite well.
A former Vancouver Canuck, Salo is a power play specialist, scoring seven of his nine goals last season with the man advantage. He’s also one of the first back defensively, as indicated by his plus-7 rating in only 69 games played during 2011-12′. His three game winners led all Canuck defensemen as well.
With the Lightning, Salo’s paired with young up-and-coming defensemen Victor Hedman. This has proven worthwhile for both, as Hedman’s been able to join the offensive rush more often, with Salo staying back. The result: a league and team-leading plus-10 rating for Salo, while Hedman has two goals and two assists for four points. His plus-eight rating is good for third in the NHL as well, behind only Salo and San Jose Sharks defensemen Brad Stuart.
Salo has also helped the Lightning power play immensely by holding pucks in the zone, giving players like Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis to name a few plenty of time to get open and usually bury the puck. The teams 30 percent conversion rate with the man advantage, good for fifth best in the NHL through six games, serves as proof. Salo’s a big part of that with five assists, many coming on the power play, while allowing only one shorthanded goal against.
At 5-1-0, the Lightning currently sit atop the Southeast Division and second in the Eastern Conference, with Salo’s acquisition a key to their good start. If he can stay healthy, and continues performing this well as the season wears on, the Lightning will have more than just a slim shot at winning Lord Stanley’s Cup.