The Hurricanes had been scoring their share of goals until their last game in Buffalo. They’re hoping to get back to what made them successful tonight against Tampa Bay.
Coach Paul Maurice felt that his team was hesitant with the puck in their 3-2 loss to the Sabres Thursday, which included a Jeff Skinner tally with 32 seconds left that made for an interesting last shift but proved too little too late. That goal came with goaltender Cam Ward pulled for the extra attacker, while Tuomo Ruutu scored on the power play in the second period. At even strength, chances were few and far between.
With the Canes looking to avenge a 5-1 loss in their first and only meeting with the Lightning this season on Dec. 20 (“We’ve got some atoning to do with Tampa Bay,” said Maurice), that needs to change.
“(We need to have) a really defined view of getting those pucks to the net,” said Maurice.
That had not been a problem in recent weeks, with the Hurricanes scoring 14 goals in their previous three contests, all wins. Even though the Canes have had their barren spells over the course of the season, they rank 12th in the league with 125 goals, just one behind the division rival Washington Capitals, who are generally considered the more high-octane team.
Long story short, the Canes aren’t slumping offensively yet, but with a key stretch of games coming up against Tampa Bay, Boston (twice) and the New York Rangers, all teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings, they’ve placed an emphasis on getting back to what made them successful.
“I thought the offense we put up against Calgary (5 goals) had a little more to do with the Calgary goaltender, but we did throw pucks at the net to make that happen,” said Maurice.
Even with that in mind, Maurice still has some defensive match-ups in mind. He said that he’ll start Jussi Jokinen on the top line with Eric Staal and Erik Cole, where he’s played for most of the last two games, but could also play Jokinen with Brandon Sutter in order to counter Tampa Bay’s top line that includes leading scorers Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.
”The best part of Jussi’s game might not be his goal scoring – it’s the defensive part of his game that’s very underrated,” said Maurice of Jokinen, who has 4 points in two games since returning from injury. “When we put him with Sutter, we usually do a pretty good job of shutting down the other team’s best line.”
That change, if made during the game, would open the door for someone like Zach Boychuk or Sergei Samsonov to get first-line minutes, but with Staal (seven-game points streak) and Cole (4 goals in his last four games) playing as well as they are, Maurice isn’t overly concerned about who their left wing might be.
“I think Cole and Staal are a good pair, and it shouldn’t really matter who else plays there,” he said. “Those two guys are good enough to carry whoever is on that line.”
Stamkos, the league’s co-leader in goals (32), has none over his last six games, which matches his longest drought of the season. Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher suggested Friday that the star third-year center has been playing through a mysterious ailment.
“Some parts of the body injury,” said Boucher. “It’s a lot better but it was really annoying for a while.”
Cam Ward get the start in goal against Tampa Bay, his third in a row after sitting out two contests with a minor lower-body injury that relegated him to backup duty. Although Justin Peters earned two wins in two starts earlier in the week, Ward is expected start most if not all games heading into the All-Star break, which begins Jan. 27 for the Hurricanes.
“There’s seven games left (before the break) and he’s had five days off (between starts on Jan. 5 and Jan. 11), so you’re going to see a lot of Cam Ward unless he tells me he can’t do it or he’s not feeling well,” said Maurice.Maurice said that Jiri Tlusty has been cleared to play following his upper-body injury first suffered on Dec. 16, but that the Czech winger would not be a candidate to re-enter the lineup until he gets more practice time.
After sitting as a healthy scratch for the Buffalo game, Sergei Samsonov will be back in the lineup following Friday’s reassignment of Zac Dalpe. He’s expected to start on the fourth line with Ryan Carter and Troy Bodie.