No player has bounced around the lineup more than Tuomo Ruutu, and after being benched for most of the third period in the Carolina Hurricanes’ 5-3 loss on Sunday to the Tampa Bay Lightning, it’s become obvious that he has a current lack of trust from his coach.
Ruutu wasn’t hurt, nor was he apparently benched for poor play. But with the Hurricanes behind by multiple goals for nearly the entire way, Kirk Muller shortened his bench in an effort to increase scoring.
“We were trailing,” he said. “We wanted to get our big guys out there. They can handle those minutes. The first two we went with four lines because of the back-to-back. Just slid ‘Lindy’ over to the right side and double shifted Manny and ‘Nasher’ in the middle. Just trying to get down to three lines.”
It should be noted that Radek Dvorak also spent most of the third on the bench. Neither he nor Ruutu have played much center this year, and that was one of the reasons for the switch. But with Nash and Malhotra failing to generate anything, why not give Ruutu a few shifts? Even if he isn’t among the big boys, he is scoring at a similar clip to Nash and Malhotra this year.
In a game where the Hurricanes piled up 97 shot attempts, Ruutu was on the ice for 16 of them through 6:48 while yielding just one for Tampa Bay — the best territorial percentage on the team. In other words, the ice was tilted heavily toward the Lightning end while Ruutu was on the ice.
The third line — Ruutu, Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm — was buzzing all night. But, over the years, it’s been a common occurrence between Skinner and Ruutu, no matter who you stick between them.
Since Skinner’s arrival to the NHL in 2010, through the end of last season, he’s logged over 1,200 even-strength minutes with Ruutu. While playing with two-time Olympian, Skinner saw his on-ice production skyrocket. Goals for increased by 53 percent while goals against dropped by 10 percent.
For whatever reason, that chemistry hasn’t boiled over to 2013-14, but the team as a whole has struggled to score. And the revolving door at third line center has made relocating it difficult. Lindholm is still an 18-year-old rookie and looks the part at times. He’s overmatched at center, part of the reason Muller moved him to wing late in Sunday’s loss.
But despite the inconsistency, Ruutu has been making a positive impact on the team this year. Per 60 minutes of even-strength ice-time, he’s been on the ice for more goals for than Jordan Staal, and as many goals against as Eric Staal. The production is there, if the raw scoring isn’t.
Still, Ruutu has found his way to the doghouse more often than not this season.
“All players go through ups and downs in their career,” said Jim Rutherford, in an interview with ABC 11. “I will say that Tuomo is a very hardworking guy. It’s not from lack of effort. He just hasn’t been able to reach his stride at this point in time.
Ruutu’s name has surfaced lately in trade talks, but no deals have been completed. If Ruutu is going to ride the bench at critical junctures in a game, indicating a lack of trust from his coach, his $4.75 cap hit could be better spent elsewhere. And it’s only fair to the player to give him a fresh start.
Right now, Ruutu is down but not out. Reunited on the third line with Skinner, the first two periods on Sunday showed glimpses of what the two can still accomplish together. Now it’s a matter of doing it over the course of multiple games.