Coach Paul Maurice has always been the first to admit that, even in the best of times, the Hurricanes are not one of the league’s premier offensive teams.
However, his team has now scored five goals three times in its last four contests, including back-to-back 5-1 wins in their last two games against Boston and the New York Rangers. Prior to this recent stretch, the team had only broken the five goal mark five times in their previous 48 games.
Although the power play has been a big part of that, it was not a factor in Wednesday’s win against the Rangers until late in the third period when the game was already out of reach due to the Canes’ four even-strength markers. However, Maurice said that the recent success with the man-advantage could be the source of the team’s overall offensive confidence.
“The power play produces numbers, and when that happens the five-on-five game settles down a little bit so that every time you hit they ice you don’t feel like you have to get a chance to score a goal,” he said.
He also said that the team’s recent tendency to find the net early has helped remove some offensive pressure from players who feel it on a nightly basis. The Canes have scored six first-period goals in their last four games, with Eric Staal contributing three of those.
“When you see your better players score early in a game, the rest of their game sorts itself out,” said Maurice. “There so much more patient in all other parts of the ice because they’ve already got something to feel good about.”
Combine the lofty scoring numbers with some consistently great goaltending from Cam Ward (2.20 goals-against average, .933 save percentage in his last 15 games), and it’s easy to see why the Canes are enjoying their best week of the season.
”Any team that starts to feel good about themselves is a lot harder to handle than a team that’s struggling and feels that pressure,” said Maurice.
Speaking of Ward, he will get the start in goal for the second consecutive night. While he did not start the Jan. 23 game at Philadelphia, he played the bulk of that contest due to Manny Legace’s early exit due to vision problems, meaning he has more or less played in 21 straight games.
“He likes the back to back games,” said Maurice of Ward. “He always has.”
Defenseman Joe Corvo will not return to the lineup tonight, although it could be any day now for the player that has been sidelined since Nov. 30. He took part in Thursday’s small optional morning skate, as did injured forwards Erik Cole, Tuomo Ruutu and Scott Walker.
For the Islanders, defenseman Jack Hillen was hit by an Alexander Ovechkin shot Tuesday night and will be out 6-8 weeks with a broken jaw. Although gruesome, if he were Tim Gleason, he would have returned to score a shorthanded goal. Kidding, of course – clearly the Hillen injury is much more serious, although the two incidents occurred in similar circumstances.
Although not a household name, Hillen averages over 20 minutes per game for the Islanders, ranking third on the team in total ice time behind Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo, making it a bigger loss than one might think. Dustin Kohn, a 22-year-old second-round pick of the Islanders in 2005, is expected to play his third NHL game in Hillen’s place.