In simplified terms, Ryan Malone plays a north-to-south style of game. His most consistent linemates – Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis – excel at an east-west brand of hockey.
While Stamkos and St. Louis possess the elite skill level to make criss-cross plays zig-zagging around the ice, Malone is at his best moving up and down the ice, chasing pucks in the zone, working the boards and camping out in front of the opposing net.
That's not to say Malone is incapable of making skilled plays, it's just not where the 6-foot-4, 224 pound power forward holds his strengths. But playing on a line with such elite skilled players can often lead to getting caught up in playing the same style.
"He was trying to skill it up too much the first games, and (Friday) was his first game where I recognized Ryan Malone,'' Boucher said. "He's probably the guy on our team who has the best mix of everything, but it doesn't start with his skill. He's got pretty good skill, but when he starts thinking about that, the rest falls apart.''
In the opening two games of the season, Malone was shut out on the scoreboard. But in the past two games the 32-year-old, in his fifth season with the Lightning, has scored three times, including the tying and winning goals during the third period of Friday's victory against Ottawa. Malone did it by getting back to his game, scoring all three goals from within five feet of the crease – two on rebounds and one of a deflection. It's part of the reason he has been a six-time, 20-goal scorer.
"I'll try to always look for them instead of maybe shooting the puck myself or squaring up (in front of the net),'' Malone said. "But for the most part I think we want to get back to just plain and simple hockey and keep it north-south for myself.''
That was very evident on Friday, setting up at the top of the crease to get a deflection off Sami Salo's point shot that tied the game early in the third and then hanging out around the crease to find a loose puck for the game-winner with seven minutes left, his 25th career game winning goal.
It was a welcome sight for Boucher to see Malone back doing what he does best.
"When he starts with his grinding and paying the price with his defensive play, and he's first on puck, taking checks and crashing the net, then the rest takes care of itself and that's what he did (Friday),'' Boucher said. "I was really happy to see Ryan Malone back.''
His teammates also recognize the pluses of having Malone camped out in front of the net and the benefits it provides.
"That's his specialty, he's done it for so long, he's got a good stick, pushes guys out of the way,'' Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "It's something important to have because you can get it rebounds off it, or it can go straight in. He does a great job at (screening) and it shows because he's always there for rebounds and stuff like that.''
Putting himself into those positions comes to maintaining the simpler approach for Malone – allow others to play to their strengths while playing to his own instead of getting caught up in how his linemates play.
"You're just trying to make the right plays whether it's fancy or not or whatever you want to call it for the most part when you try to make the right plays,'' he said, "sometimes you force things where the simple play is the best choice.''
That's how Malone is best capable of being a productive part of the Lightning's top offensive line.
"He has to compliment them but with his own attributes, not try to compliment them with their attributes,'' Boucher said.