WINNIPEG — Lightning coach Guy Boucher finally got into his comfort zone Monday.
With D Victor Hedman healthy after missing three games with an upper-body injury, Boucher used 11 forwards and seven defenseman in his lineup instead of the traditional 12/6 alignment he used all season.
"I'm welcoming it, for sure," Boucher said before the game at the Jets. "That's what I like. I've done that in midget, in junior, in the American League, and last year that's what I did most of the year when I could in the NHL."
What Boucher likes is the flexibility he believes the alignment provides.
With seven defensemen, he can sit one who isn't playing well without putting too much strain on the remaining six. Try that strategy when you start with six defensemen and go down to five and "you're really in trouble," Boucher said. "If you're playing against a team that has a lot of stamina and size, they wear you out. If you have an extra guy who can take that spot, you can replace the guy who's not playing well and not feel it."
With 11 forwards, one in the top six can get spot duty on a third or fourth line. That way, Boucher said, "you're tough to match."
Why didn't he do this earlier?
It's difficult when carrying 14 forwards because three would have to be scratched. But with Mattias Ritola off to Sweden and LW Ryan Malone injured, Boucher had to scratch only Blair Jones to get to 11.
MIRACLE CURE: Boucher had said Hedman might be out two weeks and Malone would be quicker to return.
But Malone (upper body) missed his third straight game and participated only at the end of Monday's morning skate.
"We'll see how it is back home," Malone said, "skate with the team maybe Wednesday and take it from there."
What accelerated Hedman's recovery?
"I'm 20 years old and have a young body," he joked, and added, "When I'm back I'm not going to be hesitant, just the same old me. I'll do everything I can to be a force on this team and whatever it takes to win games, paying the price, sacrificing my body, making good plays."
EDUCATING SHANNON: The previous 10 games entering Monday were difficult for LW Ryan Shannon, who was scratched for five and had zero points in the other five.
But Boucher said Shannon is "buying in now" to the way the team plays and better understands how to use his speed in Tampa Bay's system.
"It's about him understanding his speed and how much of a threat it is and taking steps toward a new level of threat for him," Boucher said. "He's a smart player who was using half his speed. … You have a bazooka in your hand but you're shooting it with your pistol."
"That's something I want to be an expert at," Shannon said about using his speed. "It's just settling down and using my instincts."
ODDS AND ENDS: AHL Norfolk players helped build a Habitat for Humanity House in Hampton Roads, Va. … Tampa Bay entered Monday one of only five teams without a regulation loss in one-goal games (5-0-2).