It may be too little, too late but the Carolina Hurricanes’ best players are finally playing like the top players they are again.
In late March-early April the Canes were going through one of the worst stretches this season for any team. The Hurricanes were on a seven-game losing streak and players like Justin Faulk, Joni Pitkanen and Tim Brent were suffering injuries. But maybe most concerning was the fact that the team was not scoring goals.
The Hurricanes have a great top six that features Eric and Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, Alexander Semin, Tuomo Ruutu and an emerging Jiri Tlusty, but those players were not scoring during those tough times and it was hurting in the standings.
But ever since Carolina broke the horrid losing streak, things have started to look up in the offensive category starting with the Hurricanes top players.
The First Line
The line of Tlusty, Eric Staal and Semin was on a tear early in the season, forming one of the top lines in the NHL and was a huge reason for why the team was winning games. But then the wheels fell off. The line was still pushing hard, but the pucks weren’t going in the net.
Jiri Tlusty leads the Carolina Hurricanes in goals this season. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Semin only scored two goals in nine games after signing his contract extension sparking some criticism, but Eric Staal was not contributing as much either. The oldest Staal seemed to be having the same problem he faced last year. Where he was trying to do too much for a team with not enough skill. Tlusty was still scoring, but not as consistent as he was to start the season.
But last night the line came alive after a few games of better play. Tlusty scored twice, while Semin and Eric Staal assisted twice. Semin also scored the first goal of the game 16 seconds into it. The line also dominated for most of the night, holding the play in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s zone.
For a team that relies so much on the first line, it was nice to see the trio get back on track.
Tuomo Ruutu and Jeff Skinner
Ruutu came back from injury late in the season, while the Hurricanes were still in playoff contention. Unfortunately for Carolina, since that time the team has dropped off and was eliminated from playoffs late last week. It took a while for Ruutu to get back into the swing of things, but he was finally able to put it all together in the game against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.
The Finnish forward scored his first two goals while playing on the second line with Jordan Staal and Chad LaRose because of Skinner’s injury in the game before. Since that game, Ruutu has been stuck with the second line and playing stronger than he has all season. The goals and lineup change may have been what Ruutu needed to get the season back on track.
Skinner was possibly going through the worst stretch for any Hurricane’s player this season. He was on an 11-game goalless drought at one point and could not buy a goal. Then on April 14, Skinner broke the drought with a power-play goal that helped the Canes snap their losing streak.
From then on Skinner has looked great, from his skating to offensive prowess. Unfortunately for him he missed a game after taking a heavy hit from Ottawa Senator’s Jared Cowen, but made a quick return and looks as good as he did before the injury.
The younger Staal may be the only top forward that has not come out of the late-season dip, but he is still doing a lot to help the team. Jordan Staal is usually paired against the other team’s top line in a defensive role and he is getting the job done. The Lightning’s only goals came on the power-play and a face-off win due in part to Jordan Staal’s defensive play. He also held Steven Stamkos to very few opportunities.
Jordan Staal’s time will come on the offense. Right now he has to stay confident and know he is doing just as much as everyone else to help the Canes win games.