Jim Rutherford succeeded in reinvigorating the Carolina Hurricanes’ top-end offense over the offseason, but now he’s facing a whole new set of challenges.
In 2011-12, the Hurricanes started their schedule with three straight losses and sank quickly to the bottom of the Eastern Conference, where they would remain until the final month of the season. An ice-cold start from captain Eric Staal and a serious concussion to Jeff Skinner were enough to de-fang the Hurricanes’ offense, and the team never really recovered.
This year, with the top two forward lines remodeled, Carolina’s top line is far more potent than it has been in recent memory. Eric Staal leads the team in scoring, having so far doubled his scoring pace from this time last season, and his brother Jordan leads the team in assists, faceoff wins, and shorthanded time. His linemate, Skinner, leads the team in goals. Newcomers Alex Semin and Zac Dalpe have had measured success, and Semin is anticipated to break out with a big scoring streak.
Unfortunately, the top-6 can’t play the entire game. While the team savors the elite scoring that was so painfully absent last season, the depth forwards have been all but invisible on the scoresheet.
After six games, the third and fourth lines (a total of 8 players) has scored an alarming 1 point collectively. Patrick Dwyer scored the only Canes goal when the team was thumped 5-1 in the season opener.
Beyond that — nothing. Not one point from respectable third-liners Jussi Jokinen, Chad LaRose and Drayson Bowman. Nothing from prospects Zach Boychuk and Jeremy Welsh, each of whom lasted only a game before being shuffled off to the press box. Not even a decent number of shots from fourth-line center Tim Brent, brawler Kevin Westgarth or the fleet-footed Dwyer.
Perhaps the greatest concern is the lack of output from Jokinen, who scored 30 goals in 2010. That seems like a lifetime ago for the clever Finn, whose goal total plunged to 19, then 12… and is now holding steady at 0 in 2013. His 7 shots in 5 games isn’t going to remedy that cold streak any time soon.
If the Hurricanes are going to be more than a bubble team, carried by their top lines and praying for great goaltending every night, support scoring will be an essential ingredient. If this drought continues, Rutherford may be forced to make another aggressive move before another season slips away.