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Gameday: Hurricanes vs. New York Islanders

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
Though the Hurricanes aren’t yet concerned about their ability to score goals moving forward, they have made some changes that they believe will help them net their first at the RBC Center tonight.

Paul Branecky
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In order to break their 120-minute home goal drought to start the season, coach Paul Maurice has moved 18-year-old Jeff Skinner to the left wing with Eric Staal and Chad LaRose. That unites the team’s top two scorers in Skinner (8 points) and Staal (7).

“We didn’t create enough offense over the last couple of games, so this is a little bit of a change,” said Staal. “(Skinner)’s a great offensive guy with great offensive instincts, and we’ll see how it goes tonight.”

“He controls the puck really well on offense,” said Maurice of Skinner. “He has a great offensive instinct to find people or take it to the net himself, he can hang on to the puck and he makes very few mistakes. He’s just a real good player, and the fact of the matter is that he’s our leading scorer.”

The move breaks up the successful line of Skinner, Tuomo Ruutu and Erik Cole that accounted for all four of the Hurricanes’ goals against the New York Rangers last Friday. According to Maurice, that’s the point.

“We’re going to look at moving different people around to get a little more offense on more than one line,” he said.

Maurice said that shifting could continue during the game tonight, particularly at the left wing position. All four players at that position switched lines heading into Wednesday’s morning skate, with Jussi Jokinen now on Ruutu’s line, Jiri Tlusty with Brandon Sutter and Sergei Samsonov with Jon Matsumoto. Full lines can be found here.

The team’s lineup will include defenseman Joni Pitkanen, who was questionable with an upper-body injury but took the morning skate and will play against the Islanders tonight.

Even though the Hurricanes’ next goal in their own building will be their first, it doesn’t seem as though that’s weighing on their minds at this point.

“We’re not thinking about that now and we shouldn’t be thinking about it,” said Chad LaRose. “We’re getting a lot of chances here, and when we get one I’m sure the floodgates are going to open.”

“I don’t think it has to be like that yet,” said Maurice. “We’ve gotten enough chances, and I don’t think we feel like we’re starved for goals to the point that we would get nervous or change our game.”

The question of whether the Canes will be able to generate enough offense long-term was a question even before the season started, but they’ve had enough games where they’ve scored four or even five goals to cancel out the goose eggs at home. However, it is something that management will continue to monitor moving forward.

“Those are the things you have to watch,” said General Manager Jim Rutherford. “Once we have as many home games as away games, I’ll have a better idea of how that shakes down. We’ve generated a lot of good scoring chances and certainly had the opportunity to score.”

Tonight, the Canes will match up against a talented young team not unlike themselves. John Tavares, the 2009 No. 1 overall draft choice, is building on a solid rookie season and is looking to take the next step towards becoming an elite player. He’s a point-per-game player on the season, but his -8 rating is tied for last place on the team.

Like Skinner, defenseman James Wisniewski ranks along some of the most surprising players to lead their teams in scoring thus far. He has 11 points in 9 games, having missed 2 contests due to suspension for a lewd gesture.

“We’re both going to try to play the same game,” said Maurice. “I’m not sure we’re going to be able to deliver quite as much speed as they will tonight, but with effective puck managing hopefully we can stay with that speed and get some pucks to the net.”

The Hurricanes are 13-3-3 in the last 19 meetings between the two teams, and have not suffered a regulation loss in the last eight (6-0-2). Those two overtime losses came last season, as the Islanders defeated Carolina in that manner in the first two meetings of the season series.

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