At this late stage of an accomplished NHL career, Sami Salo is in no mood for surprises.

He did his homework as a free agent last summer, when the 38-year-old Finnish defenseman generated attention from several clubs seeking to upgrade their bluelines.

The Lightning were one of the suitors and Salo became equally interested in Tampa after chatting with Lightning defenseman Mattias Ohlund.

"I talked to Mattias before I signed here and I knew they had a good team, with good management and good coaching,'' Salo said. "I also knew the Lightning were a hungry team. Since being here, my opinion hasn't changed at all.''

As the Lightning skate into PNC Arena for Saturday night's first-place showdown against Southeast Division opponent Carolina, Salo's early impact on his new team is apparent.

Salo's plus-11 mark through 16 games ranks among the league leaders and his new blueline partner, 22-year-old Swede Victor Hedman, is right behind at plus-10.

"We talk the game and that makes it easier,'' said Hedman. "I've learned a lot.''

Salo has essentially formed a new Nordic connection with Hedman, who was paired with Ohlund two years ago as the Lightning advanced to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.

While the Salo-Hedman tandem flourishes, Ohlund's battered knees have not recovered from 2011 surgery and his NHL future remains in doubt.