Various injuries to the Carolina Hurricanes’ forwards corps have produced holes in a lineup that's seen success thus far in February.
Most notable is the vacancy on the first line created by Tuomo Ruutu
, who has been sidelined for three weeks with an upper-body concern. Ruutu was a key cog on what has been the Canes’ most productive line in the last five games.
“Ruuts [Ruutu] is playing his best hockey since I’ve joined. As far as evaluating his performance, he’s really picked it up in the last couple of weeks,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “With Ruuts out, it’s obviously going to hurt us because he’s been playing really well, but it’s the same old story – we can’t make any excuses. We just have to find another guy that can jump in and fill the spot.”
That guy will be Jerome Samson
, recalled from Charlotte on Wednesday.
“Samson is the kind of guy that can get in there and grind it out,” Muller said. “He can make plays, he’s hard on the puck in the corners. I liked that the first time he came up until he got hurt, so I think he’s a good guy to get in there.
“Staalsy [Staal] can play with anyone right now with the way he’s playing. I think Jiri Tlusty
has been playing exceptionally wellboth with and without the puck. So that’s a nice duo.”
The result has been potent production from the Canes’ top line. Tlusty has a five-game point streak, during which he’s recorded three goals and two assists. Eric Staal
has 7 points (5g, 2a) and is plus-8 in his last five games, including a three-point effort on Monday in Montreal.
When asked if the Montreal game was Staal’s best performance since Muller took the head coaching job with the Canes, he was quick to respond.
“Yeah,” Muller said, confidently. “Definitely, it was his best game. It was Staalsy’s shorthanded goal that just turned it around. He took charge and was the best player on the ice. He led us to victory that night, for sure.
“He’s got the size and the speed and the strength to play against anyone, and he’s definitely doing it.”
Tlusty has jumped around on the forward lines this season but has recently cemented himself in a role that was envisioned by scouts when he was drafted 13th overall in 2006. Muller said slotting him on the first line was initially a trial run, but he’s had no reason to mix up the combination since then.
“It feels amazing right now,” Tlusty said. “Every game you build some confidence, and you see our line producing and keeping ourselves in the plus. The confidence is growing every day.”
Tlusty said substituting Samson for Ruutu won’t change the chemistry of the line much. Tlusty has begun to read off of Staal well and vice versa, which he said leads to good scoring opportunities. What will change is the style of the line, as Tlusty will slide back over to the left wing, a position he said he’s played most of his career.
“Ruuty got hurt, but Jerome is a good player, too,” Tlusty said. “He’s going to create some space for us because he’s strong on the puck and can always take the puck to the net. The game plan doesn’t change for us.”
Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, there are other – perhaps unexpected – holes to patch, as well. Chad LaRose
is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Muller said it’s unlikely that he will play tomorrow. Defenseman Derek Joslin
skated on the fourth line wing in practice on Thursday, and Muller said he has no problem starting him there.
While the Canes could call up another forward from Charlotte, the Checkers are thin at the forward position heading into a three-games-in-three-days stretch. Muller said he also doesn’t want to call up a player just for the sake of calling him up.
“I’d rather put a kid in like Joslin who has worked hard every day, kept his mouth shut and been very professional,” he said.
Muller added that Joslin could also be shuffled into a seven defenseman rotation if need be, especially considering the three games in four days that lie ahead for Carolina.
Though not officially on the injury list, Cam Ward
did not skate today and will be a game-day decision tomorrow. Justin Peters
will likely see a start this weekend.