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Playoff Savior – David Savard
By Michael Wax
When David Savard was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets on April 10th, hopes were very high. The Lightning had paid a premium to get one of the biggest names on the market, with the idea that Savard was going to shore up the right side of an injury-depleted defense. Through 14 games, Savard has proven that he is exactly what the Lightning have been looking for. The 30-year-old has shown what he can do, what new tricks he’s learned since his arrival, and what he still needs to work on.
First, let’s start with what we know. The biggest compliment that you can give a defensive defenseman is that you don’t notice them on the ice. For the most part, that’s how Savard plays his game. He’s in the shadows, not noticed until he’s got control of the puck, and then goes right back to being invisible after he passes it away. If we look at the trends, both before and after the trade, Savard has done a phenomenal job at limiting quality chances. The opponents will still get their opportunities with Savard on the ice, but Savard himself does a great job at keeping those shots against to the wall and near the blue line.
Savard’s main purpose, aside from improving the team, was injury assurance. Jan Rutta is currently day-to-day with a lower body injury, as he’s been off-and-on playing recently. Erik Cernak has been dealing with an upper body injury at points this season, and he’s probably not going to be 100% in the playoffs. The rest of the right side of the defense (Cal Foote, Ben Thomas, Luke Schenn, Fredrik Claesson) is either incredibly inexperienced or very sheltered depth. On the left side, Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh are healthy for Game 1 after missing regular season time, but their injuries might flare back up. The Lightning needed Savard now more than ever.
When the Lightning traded for Savard, there was a large but subtle need for them, and it came in the form of one of their greatest strengths: the penalty kill. The Lightning have a plethora of penalty killing forwards. Even though Barclay Goodrow is out indefinitely, but the Lightning already have his replacement and then some: Blake Coleman, Anthony Cirelli, Alex Killorn, and Yanni Gourde have played a huge amount of time on the penalty kill this season (80+ minutes). If the Lightning need to go any deeper, Mathieu Joseph and Steven Stamkos have penalty killing experience this season. However, the defense is sorely lacking in bodies for the penalty killing department.
McDonagh Hedman, and Cernak have logged three of the top four spots for penalty killers on the team, but there is a steep dropoff after Cernak. Sergachev and Rutta both have experience, but the Lightning wanted to make sure that they had a solid #4. Enter David Savard. Savard, in his limited Lightning action, currently has more shorthanded ice time than Joseph and Stamkos. For the entire season, he’s played more on the shorthanded side than Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev. Sergachev has been serviceable during his shorthanded stints, but the addition of Savard gives the Lightning a ride-side option on the PK when Cernak needs a change.
Overall, David Savard might be the most important piece to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s chance at a repeat Stanley Cup. A top 4 option with the ability to lay the body, suppress shots, and provide a calm nature on the penalty kill, everything that the Lightning need to go back-to-back.