Corvo was a healthy extra in four of the Carolina Hurricanes’ first nine games. He had just one assist, was a minus-2 and had his average ice time shaved to around 14 minutes per game.
After being scratched in three consecutive games from Feb. 2-7, Corvo has returned to the lineup with five points (2g, 3a) in his last four games. In that stretch, he’s a plus-6 and is averaging around 19 minutes of ice time per game. He earned first-star honors against Toronto on Feb. 14 with a goal and an assist.
“I definitely feel like I have [found my game],” Corvo said. “Now it’s just a fight to keep that play and intensity going and just figure out how to bring that to every game.”
At 35, Corvo is being pushed by the Canes’ young defensive corps, with players like Jamie McBain and Bobby Sanguinetti jockeying for spots.
“It’s always a challenge as you get older. You have to fight for everything you get,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “He (Joe) has come back and played great.”
Corvo also faced the test of accelerating from zero to 60 in a week’s time, something with which a number of veteran players have struggled. Corvo said he put on close to eight pounds over the weight at which he normally plays; working that off and getting into game-shape took some time.
In his third stint with the Hurricanes, the Oak Park, Ill., native also had to adjust to a completely new coaching staff.
“It seems like you have to prove yourself,” Corvo said. “The GM (general manager) knows what you can do, but he’s not making the lineup every night.”
Muller can relate. In the tail end of his career with the Dallas Stars, he was a regular healthy extra during the season. Head coach Dave Tippett, Muller said, was up-front and honest about when he was and wasn’t playing, something he was grateful for and has carried on as a head coach himself.
“Players are men. They are pro athletes. The best way to handle it to just be honest with them,” Muller said. “It’s not always what they want to hear, and they’re not happy to hear it sometimes, but I think they love to have the information. They like to know where they stand, and you just have to be honest with them.
“I don’t expect them to accept it. But it’s how you handle it. You’ve got to work harder.”
So Corvo did, even though he said that’s not the easiest thing to do in the face of adversity.
“You start wondering what your future on the team is or why you were brought here,” he said. “You just have to try to keep working off ice and keep practicing hard.”
Once back in the lineup in Philadelphia on Feb. 9, Corvo responded with his best game of the young season, scoring a goal and tallying an assist in over 20 minutes of ice time. He has looked every bit as confident in the three games since.
“It’s funny to say, but you’re actually working less. You’re not expending as much energy,” Corvo said of his confidence. “I’m playing super smart and not getting out of position. It’s almost like it’s easier when you’re playing well. You make it really easy on yourself by not putting yourself in bad spots.”
Muller said Corvo’s body language is evocative of a player who has found his game.
“You can see it in his practice, his warm-ups, walking around, his confidence and his decisions with the puck,” Muller said. “His feet are moving. A lot of guys, when they are nervous, quit skating without knowing it, and they’re flat-footed.”
Thursday against Toronto, Corvo opened the scoring in a sequence that started and ended with him. He pinched to chip the puck deep, and it ended up loose in the slot. He pounced on the puck and roofed it, a play that he probably wouldn’t have made in the first weeks of the season.
“If you don’t have [confidence], you’re just going to see hesitation, and you won’t see any anticipation whatsoever,” he said.
“Now he’s (Corvo) just playing. He’s making decisions, and he’s confident in those decisions,” Muller said. “He’s active and making good reads. That whole collection tells me he’s cleared his mind and is just playing.”
In Tim Gleason’s absence on Feb. 14, Corvo donned the “A” as one of the team’s two alternate captains.
“That gave it a little extra feeling,” he said. “Obviously nobody likes to fail, so it’s nice to come through in an effort like that when given your first chance.”
When Corvo was announced as the first star that night, he emerged from the tunnel and thrust his arms in the air. It was a big win for the Canes, their third straight, but also an affirming victory for Corvo.
“I think it was sort of an ‘It’s about time’ feeling. This is what I can do. This is what I want to bring,” he said. “It’s super enjoyable when you’re playing and doing the things you know you can do, not wasting games trying to tread water. Those are the things I can do on a nightly basis if I prepare right and play with confidence.”