A quick glance at Zach Boychuk
’s stat line from his only game with the Carolina Hurricanes this season on Dec. 6 versus San Jose probably doesn’t tell the entire story: he logged 7:53 of ice time, took two shots, recorded an assist and was a plus-1 in what was a 5-3 win for the Canes over one of the league’s best teams.
Beyond the numbers, the Canes front office called it the 24-year-old’s best game in a Hurricanes sweater.
“It was definitely good to hear that,” Boychuk said of what Canes Vice President of Hockey Operations Ron Francis told him. “He said I’d get another opportunity soon. Some injuries happen, and I’ve been playing well down there, so it’s nice to be back and hopefully contribute to another win.”
“It was probably his best game he’s played with our hockey club,” head coach Kirk Muller said, echoing Francis’ sentiments. “He went back down and did what he had to do. He had a chance to show an impression, and he did. He’s been here before. He’s been scoring down there, and now he’s got another opportunity and he’s got to make the best of it while he’s here.”
Boychuk leads the Charlotte Checkers with 27 points, including a team-leading 14 goals. Since mid-November, he’s found the back of the net 12 times in 16 games.
“I think this is the best stretch of hockey I’ve played in a long time,” Boychuk said. “I’m playing more intense, skating harder all over the puck and it’s resulting in goals and some solid play.”
Ten of his 14 goals have been scored on the power play.
“I’ve been using my speed quite a bit on the breakouts on the power play,” Boychuk said. “I’ve been kind of chilling out, hanging back-door. I’ve been watching how (Alex) Ovechkin and (Zach) Parise play. They find ways to get open. There are some pretty good players down there – Chris Terry finds me all the time with some great passes, as well as Aaron Palushaj and Brett Sutter.”
His recent play in Charlotte, compounded with his performance in Raleigh earlier in the month, resulted in a merry Christmas for Boychuk, who got the call from Francis on Christmas Eve.
“I’m very excited to be back here, and I’m very excited to get another opportunity. Last opportunity was a little bit short. It was just one game, but I felt like I played pretty good,” Boychuck said. “They said that I’d get another chance soon, and it’s nice that they honored that. Now I’m back.”
Boychuk will draw into the Canes’ lineup on the fourth line with Manny Malhotra and Radek Dvorak to begin tonight’s game. Jiri Tlusty, who posted a two-goal game in Tampa Bay on Dec. 21, had an emergency appendectomy on Tuesday. He’s expected to miss 2-3 weeks of action.
“The surgery went well, so that’s good news. Unfortunately those things happen, but he seems to be recovering well,” Muller said. “He was coming on, too. He was just hitting his stride.”
Justin Peters will make his third straight start in net for the Canes. The 4-3 loss to Columbus on Monday was just his second regulation loss this month and first since Dec. 9. Since Nov. 5, Peters has posted a 1.89 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage in 14 games.
“He’s played well, and he’s ready to go,” Muller said. “We’ll hit the restart button with our team here after three days (off).”
In other lineup news, Mike Komisarek will draw into the lineup and pair with Tim Gleason. Komisarek last played on Dec. 5 in Nashville, missing the five subsequent games with a lower-body injury. He has been a healthy scratch in the team’s last three games. Brett Bellemore and Kevin Westgarth will be the team’s healthy extras.
The Canes enter tonight’s contest at 14-15-8 with 36 points, which slots them in seventh in the Metropolitan Division. But, the team is just two points behind third-place Philadelphia. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, leads the Metro Division with a 27-11-1 record and 55 points.
“Well, the last game was a tough one to finish on,” Muller said of the team’s 4-3 loss to Columbus before the holiday break. “We addressed it. Now we have to learn from it and put our focus on tonight’s game.”