For a team that’s been struggling on offense, Jussi Jokinen
’s return couldn’t come at a better time.
The Hurricanes have had their moments in recent games, including late two-goal rallies in Tampa Bay and New Jersey, but haven’t been able to put consistent pressure on other teams in quite some time. It’s not a season-long problem, as the team still ranks 11th in the league with 166 goals, but over the last month, it’s popped up more often than it used to.
In moving Jokinen up to the top line with Eric Staal and Erik Cole midway through Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Devils – a spot he’ll retain for Friday’s game against the Flyers – coach Paul Maurice hopes to have found a spark.
“He went into that last game where there was really nothing going on offensively, and really the first good chance they had was Jokinen to Staal in the slot,” he said. “There was some offense there, and we’ll need that from him.”
Jokinen, who still ranks fourth on the team with 38 points despite having missed 12 games, has had success on the first line in the past, though not necessarily this season.
“We’ve moved him up there a bunch of times this year and it’s never quite clicked for him, but at the same time he hasn’t spent a lot of time there with Cole,” said Maurice.
A key for Jokinen is the fact that he doesn’t seem to need much time to catch up after prolonged spells on the sidelines. Wednesday’s game was his first since Feb. 1, roughly equaling the amount of time he missed between late December and the middle of January. He started on the fourth line against the Devils in an effort to monitor his minutes, but much like when he was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week upon his last return from injury, restrictions on his ice time proved unnecessary.
“Obviously I try to work as hard as I can off the ice,” said Jokinen, who didn’t travel with the team on their recent four-game road trip but spent the time staking on his own back in Raleigh. “I probably didn’t feel quite as good coming back this time, but I still felt strong.”
“He’s a smart player, and when his body is right he can get around the ice,” said Maurice. “He’s also a player that can change his game depending on how it’s going. If he has to grind one out defensively, he figures that out pretty early in the game.”
A concern for Jokinen is that his two recent injuries were one and the same – a lower-body concern first suffered in Toronto on Dec. 28. He’s undergoing a specific rehab program now to ensure that it won’t occur again, but he admits that it’s something he needs to be careful of.
“I didn’t feel anything in the nine games I was back, and then boom, something happened right away,” he said, adding that he was re-injured due to a specific incident very early in the Feb. 1 game against Boston. “You have to be careful and remember that you’ve hurt it before, but you have to fight through it.”
Jokinen moving to the top line was part of a handful of line changes at Friday’s morning skate, which also saw Tuomo Ruutu move back to center between Jeff Skinner and Chad LaRose. Brandon Sutter, who has recently shifted between offensive and defensive roles centering the second and third lines, will be in more of a shutdown role between Sergei Samsonov and Jiri Tlusty against the Flyers.
Ryan Carter, normally the Canes’ fourth-line center, skated for the second straight day on Friday but will not play, ensuring that Jerome Samson will stay in the NHL for now.
“He may be ready for tomorrow (at home against New Jersey), but I’m not counting on that yet,” said Maurice of Carter.
Maurice added that he had nothing new to report on defenseman Ian White, who the Canes’ have been on the verge of trading for the last few days. He did say that White, who continues to skate with the team at practice, will be a healthy scratch tonight, indicating that a deal is still very possible.