Amidst injuries to Lightning regulars, role players step up to carry the culture
Following a hard practice, there was Bolts forward Tom Pyatt, crouched down with his knees bent and his rear nearly touching the floor in a position that would soon help him spring forward into the air and stick a firm landing on three staggered plyometric blocks varying in height.
Remarkable, really, considering Tampa Bay’s fourth-line grinder has elevated himself on the ice too.
With several Lightning mainstays out of the lineup due to injury, Pyatt has raised his game to such great heights this season that his 11 goals on the year are more than five times that of his total in each of the past two seasons. On Saturday against the New York Islanders, he recorded his third goal in two games that also marked the sixth time in his past 11 contests he has registered at least a point.
“I’m willing to go to the net,” Pyatt said. “That’s the area where I’ve gotten a lot of my goals this year, and yeah I’ve taken a couple of cross checks, but it’s been worth it.”
The patch of ice at the top of the crease is often considered a crowded place, and Pyatt is not alone. Still considered dangerous and notorious for the rough stuff, the area is one of several where Pyatt and a few of his teammates have earned reputations as the type of blue-collar players that every coach would love to have.
Take Dana Tyrell for example, who Boucher lauded for his speed and grit, but who has not played since Jan. 24 due to a knee injury that has him out until next season.
What about Adam Hall, Nate Thompson and Ryan Shannon?
Thompson and Hall are currently out with upper body injuries, and according to Boucher, are “not close to being ready.”
Shannon, meanwhile, just recently had season-ending shoulder surgery.
Enter JT Wyman and Tim Wallace.
Like Pyatt, Wyman and Wallace play positionally sound defense, hunt and retrieve pucks, and display a strong work ethic. With the team’s regular role players out due to injury, the trio has stepped up and performed well in numerous situations, proving not only their value, but their functionality as well.
Among the aspects of the game in which the group excels is battling for pucks in the tough areas of the ice, killing penalties, fighting through picks and checks, and using their speed to cut through traffic.
“All three of us are hard-nosed guys who do the little things and focus in on the small details,” Wyman said. “Some of us aren’t the biggest guys, but you have to be willing, and I feel that we are.”
In certain instances, Pyatt and Wyman have occasionally filled in on the top lines, while all three players are always willing to bring a sense of determination and enthusiasm while serving as third or fourth-line energy forwards.
Boucher, who coached both Pyatt and Wyman in Hamilton of the American Hockey League in 2009-10, said he always loved what both players brought to the table, including their attitudes, willingness to get better and work ethic that fits in to the winning culture that he and General Manager Steve Yzerman are seeking to attain. The enamor was so much to the point that, at least in Pyatt’s case, Boucher pushed for Yzerman to sign him during the 2011 offseason’s free agency period.
As for Wallace, Boucher conceded that the play of the 27-year-old forward, claimed off waivers from the Islanders last month, has been “surprising,” but that it also serves as a gauge for the type of positive chemistry he has created with his linemates in just a short period of time.
“We’ve had some really good stories this season throughout all that adversity,” Boucher added. “We love the resiliency of our players and the fight that they bring. For us right now, it’s not about winning. It’s about the show, the fight, the work ethic, and these guys have it.”