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Canes Search for Offense, Juggle Lines

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes

Against a team in the Ottawa Senators that’s been known to be outscored early, the Carolina Hurricanes didn’t net a goal until late in the third period last night. Today, the coaching staff looked to find that right balance among the forward lines.

Michael Smith
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Eric Staal’s newest wingers on the first line were Chad LaRose and Jiri Tlusty, as Alexei Ponikarovsky slid down to the third line with Patrick Dwyer and Brandon Sutter centering. The second line featured “the Finns and Skins” – Jussi Jokinen centering Tuomo Ruutu and Jeff Skinner. The fourth line stayed in tact from last night, minus Derek Joslin stepping in for Tim Brent, who missed today’s skate. (For a visual look at the new lines, click here.)

“The structure’s still the same, but new looks,” head coach Paul Maurice said.

Alexei Ponikarovsky, who has spent the last few days on the top line with Eric Staal, moves down to the third line, not the first time that has happened this season. And there’s good reason for it.

“Alex has done both things over the course of his career – he’s played on an offensive line in a real offensive role and he played in a complete shutdown role last year in LA and was real effective at it,” Maurice said. “What we wanted to do was give him an opportunity to create some of that. So, if he’s not putting a lot of pucks in the net, he still has a role on this team.”

For his part, Ponikarovsky feels comfortable in either position, and he understands the line movement.

“We’re trying to find, as a team, the right guys to play with,” he said. “During the year, it always happens. It’s not just our team. We’re just trying to find chemistry and create more offensively.”

Last night, the team struggled offensively after the first period. Down 2-0 in the third period, the Canes didn’t manage a shot on goal until nearly 11 minutes in, off the stick of Ponikarovsky.

Asked if anything looked different on tape this morning than on the bench last night, Maurice said he had identified the problems.

“We had a real transition issue, so we’ll give them credit for it because they were very strong in their four-man stack at the line,” he said. “That was the focus of our practice today.

“I want the puck deep every time, but I’d much prefer it was on our stick when it happens. So there are times that we can do more to attack more. At the same time, you’ve got to do it right.”

The neutral zone seemed to give the Canes fits last night, as they weren’t able to generate a sustained offensive zone attack for much of the second and the first half of the third period. After a loose defensive first period from Ottawa, the Senators tightened up their defense at the blue line, which hindered the Canes’ offense.

“I know it looks like it sometimes, but it’s not our goal to dump the puck,” Maurice said. “What we worked on today is getting that transition so that we have more options, more speed, that we make good decisions when we lay it off and go and then when to attack the line and make a play.”

Even with the new lines and a slightly altered look coming through the neutral zone, the character of the team remains – both Ponikarovsky and Maurice know that it is strong, especially after last night.

“There are no easy games for us. The bench never folded. We stayed in the fight,” Maurice said. “And that’s a really important trait to develop in your team – that they never quit.”

“Last night’s game we were down 2-0 and everybody in this room still believed we could get back, and that’s what happened,” Ponikarovsky said. “We’ve got a team that’s willing to fight back. I think we’ve showed it not just once, but a few times in the past nine games. We’ve got a good group of guys here, and everyone is willing to put everything on the line.”

And sometimes, despite all the X’s and O’s and intricacies of the game, that’s all it takes.

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