Beginning with the Dec. 29 game in Ottawa, few Hurricanes players, regardless of position, have been as hot as defenseman Joe Corvo.
In the 16 games since, Corvo has 12 points, 11 of which have come on a resurgent Carolina power play. He’s been moving his feet and creating shot lanes for himself, which he has not been hesitant to use.
While any player experiences ups and downs during his season, the timing of Corvo’s run is no coincidence. Rather than point to adjustments that he’s made to what he does on the ice, he was quick to point to his attitude off of it – a change that began with General Manager Jim Rutherford’s by-now famous speech to his team during the second intermission of the Dec. 28 game in Toronto.
“A while ago it was kind of brought to my attention, to our attention, during a break in a certain game, that some of us weren’t playing probably as hard as we should be,” he said. “It kind of struck a chord with me and I felt like I was kind of in a stagnant period and I wasn’t doing much for the team and trying not to make mistakes. I was one of the guys that could have been doing more.”
Since then, Corvo’s mistakes have been few and far between, particularly on the man advantage. Since Corvo began filling the score sheet, the Hurricanes’ power play has been converting at a 23.5 percent clip, up from 15.9 percent before that. His 11 power-play points during that span are seven more than the rest of the team’s defensemen combined, underscoring his importance to special teams.
“Power plays are a group and they work together, and Joe has to have that understanding that, 'I’m going to shoot the puck and everybody else on the ice knows it,'” said coach Paul Maurice. “That’s when your power play is good, because you’re moving without talking."
During Tuesday’s loss to Boston, Corvo scored a goal by dragging the puck laterally along the blue line and taking a shot that redirected in off a defenseman, and also created a scoring chance with a blast that goaltender Tim Thomas wasn’t able to control.
“When you get more involved in the game and move your feet more, you don’t even think about making mistakes,” he said. “All that goes out the window and you’re just trying to do good things out there. If you do make a mistake, you make up for it in full speed.”
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Corvo’s response to Rutherford’s speech is that Rutherford’s speech was not directed in any way at Corvo.
“I’ve been pleased with his play all year,” said Rutherford. “My comments back then were about the team in general and weren’t aimed at anyone personally, but if I was going to prioritize players in a list, he would not be anywhere near the top of it.”
Even so, Corvo took the message to heart as he was feeling quietly dissatisfied with his own play. That game in Toronto concluded a stretch in which he had just a single assist in his past nine games and had been seeing less time on the power play because of it.
”There was a period where I was sick one day and I went to practice, and when I got back from being sick I wasn’t on the first power play anymore,” he said. “One of the things I really enjoy doing on a team is being on the power play, so I kind of had to work back onto that and start doing good things.”
Now, he’s undoubtedly the team’s go-to guy.
“He’s going out first almost every time and he’s not going out in pairs,” said Maurice. “It’s always Joe and (Jamie) McBain or Joe and (Joni Pitkanen). Confidence is everything.”
Where Corvo differs from Rutherford and Maurice is his belief that he needs to put up points in order to be effective. Throughout his time with the Hurricanes, Corvo has been underappreciated for what he does on the defensive end of the ice. Those sentiments come from various voices from around the league and in the media, but most importantly from the player himself.
“I don’t agree with (Corvo’s belief that he was struggling), but it gives you an insight that Joe really wants to put numbers up,” said Maurice. “It’s not a selfish thing. He thinks that if he’s scoring that he’s really, really helping the team, and he doesn’t understand sometimes how important he is in role as a defenseman.”
“Whether I like it or not, I’ve always put pressure on myself to produce and to be that guy,” said Corvo. “My expectations of myself are so high, when I don’t reach them I get kind of upset and down. I’m not seeing it that way anymore. I’m just seeing it as going into every game, trying to play well and have fun doing it.”
Those around him have noticed.
“He’s upbeat, looking you in the eye and real positive, which is great,” said Maurice. “This is the time of year – that’s the leadership. Knowing when to be in a good mood is a big part of being part of a team.”