Friday, April 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Pouliot at home in front of net

SUNRISE

If you want to locate Ben Pouliot on the ice, best to look to the slot in front of the net.

The Lightning wing lives there, enduring the congestion, the heavy contact, getting hit by pucks.

"I don't mind it at all," Pouliot said. "I want to do it and disrupt the goalie a little bit. Most goals are scored from there. It's a challenge, but it's nice."

And it paid off big time for Tampa Bay on Saturday. Pouliot, in his usual spot, scored twice — including the winner 1:19 into overtime — in a badly needed 6-5 victory over the Panthers at the BB&T Center that broke the Lightning's six-game losing streak.

It was a front-and-center moment for a player who generally this season has flown under the radar.

That said, the 26-year-old has shown flashes of why the Wild made him the No. 4 overall pick of the 2005 draft and why, though still considered a project, he has potential to be one of last summer's most significant Lightning acquisitions.

Pouliot's five goals are tied for second on the team. His nine takeaways are second. He has 10 points in 14 games, is plus-5 and has done all that in a relatively meager 12:38 of average ice time.

Not a bad return for a player acquired from the Bruins for a fifth-round draft pick and minor-leaguer Michel Ouellet.

"He's given us the depth, scoring, and the size and speed we were looking for," coach Guy Boucher said. "Obviously, we want to work with him and improve him, and he has improved. Every day I see him getting better and giving us something we were lacking last year. But he's got a lot more to offer. I know it."

For Boucher, it is the raw materials that are so intriguing.

Pouliot, 6 feet 3, 197 pounds, from Alfred, Ontario, is a terrific skater with a quick-release shot. And though he had career highs of 16 goals and 32 points last season for the Bruins, his time on a line with Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly gave him a heightened defensive sensibility.

Now, Boucher said, if he can just convince Pouliot to better use his speed: "He flies like the wind, but he doesn't realize that."

"It's something I've always been told, and I try to do it every night, but sometimes it doesn't happen," Pouliot said. "It's one of the assets I have to use."

No one has to tell Pouliot to get to the net, where Boucher said he is outstanding.

On his first goal Saturday, Pouliot found a seam between four Panthers defenders and converted Vinny Lecavalier's perfect pass from behind the goal line. On the overtime winner, he skated directly to the net and was rewarded again.

"I want to be a good player, a consistent player, just be very good every night," he said. "I got the speed and the size and the shot to do it. It's just a matter of doing it every night."

"He's strong and fast, and he knows where to be," center Steven Stamkos said. "He might be under the radar for some guys, but we know the contribution he brings."

And from where he contributes.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]

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