While the Canes have been trying to generate more offense all year in all situations, it comes down to the power play for coach Paul Maurice.
In Sunday night’s home loss to Washington, two consecutive penalties by the visitors just minutes after Tuomo Ruutu had made the score 3-2 seemed to give the Hurricanes a serious lifeline, but the team was only able to generate one shot on goal via Jeff Skinner.
”(The power play) is your primary opportunity,” said Maurice. “We need to put pucks in the net there.”
In order to do so and improve a unit that is ranked 27th in the league with a 15.5 percent conversion rate, Maurice said he would look at giving different players more of an opportunity on a set third grouping (teams typically have just two). He specifically mentioned Brandon Sutter, who has featured heavily in that role in the past, and Chad LaRose, who has never scored a power-play goal.
“We’ve held back on those guys a little bit because it’s about running the bench,” he said. The next line off the bench is always (the opposition’s) best players.”
Maurice said that the top group would still feature some of his best offensive players in Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu. He added that lines at even strength would remain the same from the Washington game, and that he was hoping to get a little more offense out of Sutter’s line with LaRose and Patrick Dwyer.
“I’d like to see the Sutter line put some pucks in the net, just through work ethic and grinding it out,” he said.
That was part of the focus on a lengthy video session the coaching staff held Monday morning that Maurice said was aimed at establishing consistency in all areas of the ice. That comes after the Canes have dropped a season-high three games in a row – a streak that was preceded by a season-best four-game winning streak.
”We just have to keep believing and getting better to survive,” said Maurice. “We talked about being in striking distance when we got through this month and we were in a real good spot a week ago and in less of a good spot now, no question.”
Although he disagrees with the call, defenseman Tim Gleason, speaking to the media for the first time since the Washington game, was diplomatic in assessing the events that resulted in his ejection late in the first period for a charging major on Mathieu Perreault.
“I don’t think it was dirty at all, I just finished a hit,” he said. “I’m sure it didn’t help my case that he was bleeding, but the call was made, they thought it was the right call at the time, and so be it.”
Gleason, who played just 5:42 on the night, said he was surprised by both the ejection and the roughing major on Washington’s Matt Hendricks, who appeared to instigate a fight following the hit.
“I thought I was kicked out for the period because I got in a fight, and lo and behold it wasn’t a fight,” he said. “I found out later on that it was a misconduct. The referees are in a tough situation to make a quick call like that, and they did what they had to do and thought it was right at the time.”
Fellow blue liner Joni Pitkanen got the day off from Monday’s practice after playing a season-high 33:20 in Washington’s game. That ice time was a result of Gleason’s absence, that left the Canes with just five defenseman. He is expected to play in Toronto Tuesday night.
According to Maurice, forward Jiri Tlusty is still a week away from returning from the upper-body injury he suffered on Dec. 16 in Atlanta.