Lightning right winger Benoit Pouliot has made himself at home in front of the net. Tampa Bay had acquired Pouliot in trade during the 2012 NHL entry draft from Boston in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick and minor-league player Michel Ouellet. While the intention was to have Pouliot playing top-line minutes, he started the abbreviated 2013 NHL season playing a good bit of time on the 3rd line.
But lately, the 6'3'' 197 lb forward has found a niche in front of the net, doing the dirty work and racking up points.
The 26-year-old said parking in the slot is not a new home for him; he has always camped out there during his career. That is where Pouliot flourishes, in heavy traffic while getting nailed by pucks.
"You don't want to get three guys deep and I like to be open in the slot so I can find my own spot out there and get a quick one timer and surprise the guys with a quick play," Pouliot said.
Speaking of a quick play, in Tampa Bay's 6-5 overtime win on Saturday afternoon against the Florida Panthers, Pouliot saw the back of the net twice, including the game winner in over time. Pouliot received a pass from Tom Pyatt that bounced off of the boards to where he was in front of the net, netting the game winner on a wrist shot.
Pouliot might have a history of inconsistency, but he's showing glimpses why he was chosen fourth overall pick by the Minnesota Wild in the 2005 NHL entry draft. Pouliot's goals might not end up on highlight reels, but his 13 points (five goals, eight assists) so far this year have undoubtedly helped the Lightning.
Last season, Pouliot skated under the radar while with Boston, scoring 16 goals and notching 16 assists in 74 games he played. With more consistent opportunities for playing time (and continued consistency on his own part), eclipsing those totals isn't out of the question; Pouliot has 12 points in the past 10 games.
Lightning Coach Guy Boucher certainly isn't surprised by Pouliot's production.
"I've always believed that he had something, definitely. He was just inconsistent; so what you are seeing now isn't something he's never done," Boucher said. "He's just being very consistent at the small details that make him good which number one is speed and I love the fact that he drives that net and wants to go to those dirty areas and he is not scared."
Boucher said Pouliot's speed and hockey sense gels with the top players on the team and also helps generate offensive production.
"It's great because with our top guys they need somebody that's going to get pucks for them," Boucher said. "They need somebody that has the speed to follow them and the smarts and the skills and he's doing it all right now."
On Tuesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Pouliot was seen again in his comfort zone in front of the net and it paid off. Assisting on goals three goals (by Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos and Matt Carle) led to a three point night against the Leafs,
On Stamkos' goal, Pouliot fought tooth and nail for the puck. Pouliot said "The guy was holding my stick so at first I couldn't really move. I thought maybe I would get a holding call but then the puck managed to hit my stick then my skate, then it went to Conacher and it put it right on the tape for Stammer."