GLENDALE, Ariz. — One of the first things Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman did at practice Friday at Jobing.com Arena was fire a few pucks off the end boards.
Hedman was checking the liveliness of the bounce and the best areas at which to shoot to get pucks to rebound to the front of the net.
Welcome to the new NHL, where, let's call it an angular strategy, is changing the way teams create scoring chances.
"It's something we definitely practice," coach Jon Cooper said. "The boards are in play, so if you have a chance to use part of the rink, you use every part of the rink. It's something we definitely have as part of our game plan."
As usual, necessity was the mother of invention.
Shot blocking has become so important in today's game, and teams pack so many players in front of their nets, getting shots to the net has become like threading a needle. So, lacking a clean shooting lane, players are shooting off back boards, hoping the puck bounces to a friendly stick, hits the goalie and deflects in, or just gets to the slot.
"You're just trying to create havoc in front of the net," defenseman Matt Carle said.
In a Nov. 1 game at Carolina, Hedman scored when his bank shot deflected in off goaltender Justin Peters. On Nov. 9 against the Red Wings, Carle's shot ricocheted perfectly off the end boards to Ryan Malone, who took the puck in stride in the slot and wristed a shot past startled goalie Jimmy Howard.
Hedman almost got another bank-shot tally Tuesday at Montreal, but goalie Carey Price was alert and gloved the puck against his right leg pad.
"It's just a good thing to have in your back pocket to create some confusion in front of the net," Hedman said. "Sometimes the pucks go in."
And when they do, "it's cool," Carle said. "It's one of those weird things in hockey where you just kind of hope it works, and when it does, it's a bonus."
The misdirection strategy counts on surprise more than anything. Goalies who want to appear bigger to shooters move toward them. That creates the chance a puck ricocheting from behind will hit them and deflect in.
The strategy also takes advantage of defensemen fronting opponents to deny them the puck or block shots. But that also leaves opponents available to gather a puck coming off the end boards.
That said, it is not an easy maneuver to pull off.
"The players have to do it in the heat of the moment," Cooper said. "He has to process the information, where the defenders are, and put (the puck) in an area (of the boards) where that's going to come back to the net. It just shows you the headiness of the players that these guys are processing that and doing it."
Lightning players have to be prepared, too, for opponents using the same tactic. For Hedman, that means "eliminating (opponent) sticks and worrying about the puck second" when he recognizes shooting lanes are clogged.
But in preparation for tonight's game against the Coyotes, all that mattered was the bounce of the puck off the boards.
"Pretty lively," Hedman said. "We'll be using them (tonight)."
MEDICAL MATTERS: Defenseman Sami Salo (lower body) is expected to play tonight. … Defenseman Mark Barberio (lower body) is questionable. … Forward Tom Pyatt (broken collarbone) practiced wearing a red no-contact jersey.