Warning to National Hockey League goalies outside of Toronto: Joffrey Lupul may have found another way to score goals.
Upon his return to the Maple Leafs’ lineup Saturday after a 25-game absence, the veteran left-winger beat Winnipeg Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec to the glove side on his first shift, a backhander from 32 feet.
Lupul admitted to Hockey Night in Canada Radio host Gord Stellick and co-host Kelly Hrudey on Monday that a lot of time had passed since his previous back-handed goal.
The goal 92 seconds into the game was the first of the season for the native of Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., who had his forearm broken by a slapshot from teammate Dion Phaneuf in a Jan. 23 game at Pittsburgh. Lupul added another goal in the final minute of the second period in an eventual 5-4 shootout loss.
“To be honest, when I was coming back and starting to practice and skate [after having my cast removed], for the first two weeks I was out there I couldn’t shoot on my forehand, so all I was doing was shooting pucks on my backhand,” Lupul told his fans listening on Sirius channel 207 and XM 92.
Hrudey, a retired NHL netminder who played 15 seasons for the New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks in the 1980s and ‘90s, asked Lupul the key to releasing a back-handed shot, wondering if it isn’t the hardest shot in hockey to stop.
“I couldn’t tell you Kelly, I don’t know,” the Maple Leafs forward said matter-of-factly. “It’s just one shot.”
Lupul was pressed further by Hrudey, who asked if the key is the release of the puck or if the player attempts to get under the puck more on a backhand attempt.
‘You shoot it like a wrist shot’
“I think you just shoot it like a wrist shot,” Lupul told HNIC Radio. “Sweeping motion, just try to get some more power behind it. Maybe I’ll try to use it a little bit more now.”
In eight-plus seasons, the bulk of the 29-year-old’s 153 goals have been scored on the forehand.
Lupul started Saturday’s game playing alongside centre Nazem Kadri and right-winger Matt Frattin after the Leafs contemplated re-inserting him on the top forward line with Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak.
Lupul spent much of last season with Kessel and Bozak, with whom he scored many of his 67 points in 66 contests before a shoulder injury last March sidelined the 2002 first-round pick for the remainder of the regular season.
Kadri, who shares the team scoring lead with Kessel this season, fed Lupul the pass that led to the latter’s first goal on Saturday.
“He’s playing well right now,” said Lupul of Kadri, who has flourished in head coach Randy Carlyle’s first full season behind the Maple Leafs’ bench. “He’s good in the corners, he’s good on the forecheck and he knows when to move the puck. Hopefully, we can keep working together and build some good chemistry.”
After Lupul’s second goal closed the Winnipeg lead to 4-3, he motioned to the home fans at Air Canada Centre to rise out of their seats and cheer their team.
“A couple of times I was watching games in our home rink [while sitting out injured] I was a little bit frustrated with the crowd,” said Lupul, who finished Saturday’s game with two goals on five shots, six hits and four minutes in penalties. “I understand the team hasn’t had as much success as we would like over the past seven or eight years.
“It’s still all right to come to games and get behind the team. It certainly helps the players.
“You see when you go other places like Winnipeg, Montreal, Boston, Philadelphia, how much that helps the home team,” Lupul added. “The crowd [in Toronto] was great on Saturday in the third period and got behind us [when Kessel scored to force overtime] and it does motivate you. Hopefully, they can do a little bit more of that.”
And all the better if it follows a Lupul backhand shot.