When Rod Brind’Amour scored against Tampa Bay last week, it broke a lengthy 29-game drought. Now, all of the sudden, the games where he doesn’t hit the score sheet are the harder ones to come by.
That game against the Lightning, a 9-3 win for the Hurricanes, was the first in a four-game goal streak for Brind’Amour – his first such run since November of 2006. The Hurricanes captain went on to score 82 points that year, marking his best offensive season in 11 years.
The goals were just part of a nice group of games for Brind’Amour, who has seven total points in his last six contests.
As for whether or not he just needed that first goal to go in before he started racking up the points, Brind’Amour, in his typically modest fashion, said it wasn’t quite that simple.
“Lately I’ve been getting a little more opportunity,” he said. I’m getting some power play time again. You’ve got to look at the big whole thing of what’s going on, not just if they’re going in or not. I’ve gotten a couple of great passes from guys and a couple of empty-netters, basically. Those help.”
Prior the start of his run, Brind’Amour did start seeing more regular time on the power play, which he had been accustomed to in recent years. Since the March 3 game at Washington, his minutes are similar to some of the team’s biggest offensive weapons on the man advantage, compared to a stretch in February where he was used sparingly, or in some cases, not at all.
From the time the calendar turned to March, Brind’Amour has topped four minutes of power play time on three separate occasions, responding with two goals.
“Part of it is opportunity, and then he takes some confidence from that,” said Coach Paul Maurice.
In recent weeks, Maurice has traced Brind’Amour’s effectiveness back to the week off he took in early February to rest a nagging groin issue. While the captain admitted he has felt better physically since then, he’s not sure that’s the primary reason.
“It’s hard to say,” he said. “I definitely felt better after not playing for a week and my groin felt better, but who knows. It’s one of those things where if anybody takes a break during the season you’re going to feel better. It’s just a strange game. That’s how it goes.”
While most will point to Eric Staal as being the primary beneficiary of Erik Cole’s return to the team, and justifiably so, the overall increase to the team’s forward depth has helped Brind’Amour as well. When Cole rejoined the team’s top line, Sergei Samsonov moved to Brind’Amour’s left wing – a combination that has also had some success in the past.
“You know he’s going to hang on to the puck and give you that extra second to get open,” said Brind’Amour of Samsonov. “If he has it, I know what I have to do and that’s just to find a spot. He’s not just going to give it up – he’s going to hang onto it and do those little moves that he does. Then it’s up to me to find a spot for him to try and get it to.”
While the offense has eventually come, the most important statistic to Brind’Amour’s season has been his plus/minus rating. It’s not always a completely fair number, but Brind’Amour nonetheless had the lowest marker of any player in the NHL for long stretches of the year.
Naturally, as his offense has improved, so has the number. Since returning from his week off on February 12, Brind’Amour is a +3, and hasn’t had a game where he was lower than -1. He was one of only a handful of forwards to emerge relatively unscathed from lopsided losses to Florida, Columbus and Boston in that department.
That improvement to his game, as well as those on the offensive end, come at an important time for the Hurricanes, who always knew they would need their captain to be an effective player if they were to be successful.
“He’s too important of a piece, and he knows it,” said Maurice. “We’ve had a few of our other centers in Eric Staal and Matt Cullen going for a while now, but the role he is playing right now, in all situations, is critical.”