In the grand scheme of things, eight games isn’t a very long time. For Alex Barré-Boulet, it must have seemed like a lifetime. After all, for the better part of six of those games he was skating on the top line of the defending Stanley Cup Champions. While he was getting his chances, they just weren’t going into the net. That finally ended in the third period of Sunday night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Fittingly, it came on the power play. While ABB has held his own at even strength during his brief audition with the Lightning, he is going to make or break his NHL career on special teams. As he has shown with the Crunch, he is an absolute handful when given time and space, two things that are usually abundant on the power play.
In his 144 games with the Crunch he has scored 69 goals (nice) and 29 of them have been on the power play. Part of the reason is because he is extremely versatile and can line up in just about any spot on the special teams unit. While he doesn’t have as big of a one-timer as Steven Stamkos he does have a very quick and heavy slapshot that surprises a lot of goaltenders. He’s pretty good at deflections as well. If the Lightning weren’t absolutely loaded with offensive talent, he has the vision and passing ability to direct the action from the sideboards (the Nikita Kucherov spot).
He also has the knack for putting himself in areas where goals come a lot easier. In this play he drifts down into the left circle with his stick on the ice. The Columbus defenders are scrambling a bit due to the earlier attempt on net with Brayden Point camped out in front of Joonas Korpisalo.
Due to that, and the excellent puck movement by the Lightning, Seth Jones is left to defend three Lightning players around his net. As Ondrej Palat has the puck over by the right-hand boards, you can see Jones peek over his right shoulder to keep an eye on Barré-Boulet. He knows he’s there, but he also knows that Alex Killorn and Point are the bigger threats since they’re camped out in front of his goaltender.
The little shove he gives Killorn just prior to the above screen shot opened up just enough of a seam for Palat to thread the shot-pass over to ABB. Jones is a second or two too late moving out and it’s an easy goal for the rookie. Had Korpisalo not been injured just prior to this sequence, he might have been able to slide over and make the stop, but with his lower body compromised, he isn’t able to push over to cover that side of his net.
Now that he has the first one out of the way, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a few more find their way to the back of the net for Barré-Boulet. He has a knack for scoring in bunches (technically he’s on a six-game goal streak with Syracuse at this moment). One would have to go all the way back to his rookie season in 2018-19 to find longer goalless streaks than the one he just went through with the Lightning. He had a pair nine-game droughts that first year. When he broke them, the goals came in bunches. After the first one in early November he scored in three straight games. Later in the season he put up five in four games after another long stretch without a goal.
Hopefully this is the first of many in a long, distinguished Lightning career for Barré-Boulet.