Matt Carle has been here before — in Tampa Bay that is. He started the 2008-09 season there before being traded to Philadelphia where he spent the next four seasons with the Flyers. He was a vital part of their run to the Finals in 2010, an eventual 6-game loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, registering 13 points in 23 games, while only taking four minor penalties generally playing against the opposition’s top line.
Although his time in the Sunshine State was short the first time around, that familiarity led Carle back to Tampa when he became an unrestricted free agent this past July 1.
“I played here in the past, four years ago, and there are a handful of guys (Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Ryan Malone, Steven Stamkos, Adam Hall) who are still here,” said Carle, “so that makes some things a little easier, a little more familiar. It made it an easier decision to come back here for sure.”
What is different in Tampa Bay these days is their group of defenseman, in fact the 28-year-old Carle who is officially listed at being 6’0” tall, is one of the smallest members of that unit. The other blueliners make him look like a smurf (especially when they wear their blue jerseys): Keith Aulie (6’6”), Eric Brewer (6’4”), Victor Hedman (6’6”), Brian Lee (6’3”), Brendan Mikkelson (6’3”), Mattias Ohlund (6’4”) Sami Salo (6’3”). With their size it’s amazing that opposing teams can get any shots on goal; and if a shot does get through, the Lightning have Anders Lindback in net — he’s also 6’6” so good luck with that.
Lightning GM Steve Yzerman is doing some good things in Tampa Bay, and it seems he is building a team (the right way) that will be a contender and a hard team to play against for quite a long time. Obviously the front office and the coaching staff are new to Carle who was only in Tampa his first time around for 12 games, but as far as he is concerned it’s been a good fit for both parties.
“It’s been a work in progress,” Carle told THW after a game in New Jersey. “Anytime you come into a new team you have to learn a new system and with a short training camp, that makes it that much more difficult to get adjusted. It’s something I have been working on every game, every practice; trying to learn the system as much as I can so I can be effective on and for this team.”
Before the game in New Jersey, the Lighting played a game in Philadelphia earlier in the week, and the notoriously tough fans in the ‘City of Brotherly Love’ booed Carle when he was on the ice.
“It’s to be expected,’ Carle said with a half-smile. “Their fans are passionate and I’ve seen it before when teammates have gone to other teams and came back to Philadelphia. So it was nothing out of the ordinary there; that’s why those fans are so great because they are so passionate about the game.”
After a fast start, the offense has slowed down for the Lightning, but Carle isn’t worried yet despite the shortened schedule, which has turned the season into a mad scramble for playoff spots already.
“Just keep things simple; we didn’t get a lot of shots on net tonight, I don’t think it was more than 20 (it was 19), that was the biggest thing or problem for us tonight,” he said. “Especially against a tough team defensively like the Devils, you want to try to create as many chances as you can; struggling to get shots on net is inexcusable.”
Here is Carle’s first goal this season with the Lightning:
You can bet the Flyers (even if most of their fans won’t admit it) miss Carle a lot as they have struggled out of the gate this season, leaving Ilya Bryzgalov to fend for himself with a shoddy defense corps in front of his crease. They are always seemingly in the market for a defenseman, but now even more than ever after they swung and missed in trying to sign Shea Weber during the offseason.
As for Carle, he’s happy right where he is with Tampa Bay, even though he may get lost amongst the giant trees he plays alongside on the Lightning blueline.
Dan Rice can be reached via Twitter: @DRdiabloTHW or via Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.