The Carolina Hurricanes have suddenly become one of the most potent offensive teams in the NHL, getting contribution from all four lines. And it all started at the top.
Though the trio of Eric Staal, Alex Semin, and Jiri Tlusty began the season together, after being deemed ineffective and failing to score at a pace similar to last year, they were quickly broken up. But since being reunited five games ago, they have combined for 22 points (10G, 12A) and the Hurricanes as a whole have scored 20 goals.
“Well I think we are better together, to be honest,” Staal said. “I think each of us knew what we were last year and what made us successful.”
But while Saturday’s matinee start, a 6-3 win over the Ottawa Senators, featured a plethora of scoring, just two points came from the top line. Instead, with former Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson spending the majority of his time against Staal and company, it was the Hurricanes’ bottom-six that did the dirty work.
Nathan Gerbe opened the scoring with a sharp-angle shot that slid between Robin Lehner’s legs, and his saucer pass over a diving Marc Methot found Manny Malhotra, who made no mistake. The two finished with three points each, and the third member of the third line, Drayson Bowman, had two assists.
“For us to be successful continuously, we have to get effort from all four lines,” said Malhotra. “We’re expecting a lot out of each other and out of each line. It’s nice when we can contribute like that and give ‘Skinns’ and ‘Stally’ and ‘Sems’ the night off.”
Jeff Skinner and Jordan Staal didn’t score, but each also beat Lehner, only to see their shots clang off the post.
Even the fourth line got into the action. After Andrej Sekera skated circles around the Ottawa defense, looking very reminiscent of Joni Pitkanen, he found a wide open Riley Nash, who had time to gather the puck, settle it, and pick a corner.
“People got their money’s worth,” Sekera said. “I just try to create something for the guys down there, some confusion, and space opens up. That’s when you can capitalize on that.”
Riley Nash has quietly put together a solid offensive campaign despite getting limited ice-time — including rarely any on the powerplay — and being shuffled all around the lineup. His even-strength points per 60 minutes rank 5th on the team, behind Eric Staal, Skinner, Semin and Gerbe.
Even Tuomo Ruutu got into the action, putting home a powerplay tally, just the Hurricanes’ second since their offensive onslaught of the NHL began.
“When you’re not scoring, the first thing you’ve got to do is shoot the puck. Get a little selfish,” said Kirk Muller.
And that’s been the difference. For the fifth game in a row, the Hurricanes eclipsed 30 shots, with a season high 51 coming in their only loss during the stretch, a 5-3 setback to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Had it not been for the heroics of Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop — an egregious omission from Team USA — that result, too, may have swung a more positive way.
In their 28 defeats, the ‘Canes average 29.8 shots per game. In their now 23 victories, they average 31.8 shots per game. Though only a two-shot difference, those two shots represent two more opportunities to score. A shot is never a bad play, and sometimes the unlikely ones go in, as evidenced by Gerbe’s goal. They can’t all be highlight reel.
The Hurricanes have now won 3 in a row, and 9 of their last 12, to claw back into the thick of the playoff race. And the contributions have come from everywhere. Since the shuffle, lines one, three, and four have scored 10, 4, and 3 goals, and have all taken turns carrying play.
“Your top guys some nights have to neutralize theirs, and when you get goals from those other guys, the third and fourth lines, it’s a huge plus. Goals from Manny, ‘Gerbs’, ‘Ruuts’, they made a big difference in the game.”
Next up for the ‘Canes are the red-hot Columbus Blue Jackets, fresh off of a recently halted eight-game winning streak. With a victory, they will vault back into a playoff spot. Perhaps this time it will be Jordan Staal’s line that provides the scoring.