BRANDON — Tom Pyatt has found the secret to success in the NHL; well, the secret to his success, anyway:
Get to the net.
Despite the league's crackdown on the rough stuff in that area, it's still a dangerous place, and Pyatt, 5 feet 11, 187 pounds, isn't exactly intimidating.
Yet, the Lightning center has made that patch of ice at the top of the crease his home, and it is the main reason, he said, for his 500 percent spike in goals this season, from what had been a career-best two to 10.
"I don't mind going into those areas," Pyatt said Friday at the Ice Sports Forum. "You go into those areas, you get rewarded. I don't mind getting a few cross-checks to the back. It's worth it."
Pyatt, 25, has kind of flown under the radar.
A fourth-line player for the most part, his blue-collar contributions — playing positionally sound defense, hunting pucks and displaying a strong work ethic — generally are the kind only a coach would love.
But there is a higher profile. Pyatt is so strong defensively and such a good skater, he is fifth on the team with an average 2:11 of penalty-kill time, and he is skilled enough to occasionally fill in on the top lines.
It is his determination around the net, though, that has become his signature. In Thursday's 3-2 shootout win over the Oilers, Pyatt scored twice from there.
On the first, he found open space and deflected Victor Hedman's pass. On the second, he beat Edmonton's Ryan Jones to the crease and took one of those cross-checks in the back from Jones as he jammed at the puck.
"He's relentless," coach Guy Boucher said. "We use that word a lot, but this guy really is. He gets through traffic, he fights through picks and checks, and his feet keep moving all the time."
"He's slippery around the net," teammate Brett Connolly said. "He's tough to check. He's speedy, so he can get away from bigger opponents."
Pyatt has 10 goals, 16 points in 65 games and is averaging 14:24 of ice time. In two previous seasons with the Canadiens, he had four goals, two each year, and 12 points in 101 games.
"Last year I was trying to do too much scoring from the outside, shooting from far away," he said. "This year I realized lots of goals are scored from around the net and the crease. I'm learning what I have to do and the areas I have to be in to be productive."
It has paid off, literally. Pyatt, who signed in July as a free agent to a one-year, two-way contract worth $525,000, was in January extended two years through 2013-14 with a one-way deal worth $1.2 million.
He also made Boucher and assistant general manager Julien BriseBois look good. Both knew Pyatt from their time with Montreal and pushed general manager Steve Yzerman to sign him.
"I loved him in the American league," said Boucher who coached Pyatt in 2009-10 at Hamilton. "He fits what we're trying to do."
"I found my way of how to play in the NHL," Pyatt said, "and the more experience you get, the more confident (you get). I'm getting better every day. Hopefully, it keeps going like that."