A few weeks ago, the Hurricanes were putting a major emphasis on getting more shots on goal and doing more dirty work around the other team’s net.
That work seems to have paid off, as the Canes have peppered the opposition’s goaltender with at least 45 shots in their last two games against Boston and Atlanta, overcoming initially strong showings by netminders Tim Thomas and Kari Lehtonen to earn at least one point in the standings in either game – the importance of which can’t be understated in the tight Southeast Division race.
At one point, it looked as though either game might end up as one of those where they just ran into a hot goaltender, but the sheer amount of rubber they threw the other way eventually overcame all that.
Of the five goals they put up against Atlanta, none were especially breathtaking. True to what coach Peter Laviolette had been preaching all along, most were the result of just getting the puck to the net and then being there to deposit rebounds, get redirects or set screens.
”There’s been an awful lot of action the last few games going to the net,” said Laviolette, whose club has put up 93 shots over the last two contests, scoring seven goals in that span. “Once that’s going, if you want to be cute and you want to try little plays in the offensive zone, you’re going to start their offense and they’re going to go back the other way. We have had the attack to the net with our skating and our work ethic.”
Perhaps no one line best personifies that emphasis on grit and hard work than the unit of Keith Aucoin, Ryan Bayda and Scott Walker. What might look like a patchwork collection of players necessitated by an injury crisis has been remarkably effective of late, as that trio accounted for three of Carolina’s five goals against the Thrashers. Laviolette even went as far to say that Aucoin had “the game of his life.”
”We’re not doing anything fancy out there,” said Bayda, who was brought up from Albany along with Aucoin to fill some holes in the roster. “There’s no tricks to our game, it’s just solid, hard-nosed hockey”
Walker, whose 728 games of NHL experience make him the clear veteran on a line where the two other players have a combined 126 big-league contests between them, has helped to instill that work ethic on the two AHL veterans.
“They’re working hard, and that’s the main thing I try to stress with them,” he said. “I know they’re gifted. At different times in your career you’re going to be set in different roles. Right now we’re just playing a role where we have to work hard. The parts where you can show your gifts and your ability are going to come, but all through hard work.
”I think they’ve done a great job of taking it, chipping it in and getting it deep,” he added. “That’s our time – to get out there, wear the other team down, wear their D down and take it to the net when you get chances.”
Walker also mentioned that the fact that neither player is particularly young – Aucoin is 29 and Bayda is 27 – has helped them stay on a more even keel. Whereas a 20-year-old might have one good game and then relax a little bit, he says that these two have been around long enough to know that a consistently high level of effort is needed.
Not that he doesn’t remind them if he thinks he needs to.
“He’s been vocal with us, helping us and kicking us in the butt when we need it,” said Bayda.
is telling them has worked, as has the team’s dogged determination to get pucks on net – one that they hope will continue down the stretch.