Mostly pleased with how his team finished its 3-2 overtime loss to Atlanta on Wednesday, Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice will retain the adjustments that helped them get to that point.
After a slow start that saw the Canes trail 2-0 and not get enough pucks or traffic to opposing goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, Maurice made a change in his top two scoring lines heading into the third period. The switch of right wingers Erik Cole and Tuomo Ruutu separated Cole and Eric Staal for the first time in months.
“I just didn’t think that the puck was following them or that they were in sync with the puck, and when we made the switch the lines were good,” said Maurice of the mindset behind the change.
The new groupings weren’t directly responsible for the tying goal – in a strange twist, it was two recently-separated players in Cory Stillman and Cole who hooked up for the equalizer as their line changes overlapped – but Maurice said that he liked what he saw enough to start Friday’s game in Washington the way he finished against Atlanta.
“Staal’s line got a little more offensive zone time and it puts a different threat on another line that they have to be careful with,” he said. “I like the way we finished with that, so we’ll probably start there.”
Although disappointed to lose in overtime and gain just the single point in the standings, Maurice said that he had no regrets over how the final play developed. In the four-on-four situation, Finnish Hurricanes Jussi Jokinen, Tuomo Ruutu and Joni Pitkanen broke into the offensive zone together, leaving Jay Harrison alone to face the two-on-one counter attack by Atlanta after Pavelec stopped Jokinen’s would-be winner.
“Juice is a 30-goal guy and we want him taking the shot and we want to take our chances off those,” said Maurice. “You can hold your third guy back a little bit and sit back, but if the puck comes back to him and it’s on his stick and in the net, it’s the right thing. I think in overtime you go as aggressive as you can.”
It’s been an uncharacteristically long time sine the Hurricanes have faced Washington, a Southeast Division rival, with the last meeting coming on Dec. 26. The Capitals won that match-up, as they have all four meetings in the season series, though the last three match-ups have been one goal games. One of those, the Nov. 28 contest in D.C., was decided in a shootout.
While the last meeting came when the Capitals were just recovering from one of their most sluggish stretches of the year, one that was chronicled in HBO’s “24/7” documentary, they’ve now won six straight games, including Wednesday’s 5-0 triumph over Edmonton, heading into Friday’s match-up.
“They’ve had a real interesting year,” said Maurice. “They look like they’ve bought in to playing a hard, defensive game. They’re playing well and they’re playing tough. They’ve got clearly the offensive guns that we always talk about, but I think their defensive game has really improved.”
Following that game, the Canes return home to face Columbus for the second half of back-to-back games. The Blue Jackets host Los Angeles on Friday, meaning that neither team will have a rest advantage.
“It’s all fair,” said Maurice.
As Thursday was the lone off day in the current three-games-in-four-days stretch, Maurice opted to hold an optional skate at the RBC Center featuring just five players.