With the myriad of new faces in the Carolina Hurricanes locker room, the team knew it was facing a challenge to begin the exhibition-less, compacted season: play an aggressive system and search for chemistry among line combinations, all while trying to win games.
It might have taken a week, but the Canes are starting to find their game.
After sweeping a home-and-home set with Buffalo, the Hurricanes bring a two-game winning streak back to Raleigh for a two-game homestand before embarking on their longest road trip of the season.
“As far as guys getting familiar with each other, I think it’s starting,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “We’re playing a 200-foot game. As a team, we’re getting an identity, and keeping the lines together is helpful. The chemistry is starting to kick in a little bit more.”
Helping the team’s success along has been constant production from the Hurricanes’ most deleterious offensive players and a steady one-two punch in net.
In their last three games, Jeff Skinner has scored four goals and Jordan Staal has notched four assists. After netting a hat-trick on Thursday, Eric Staal registered an assist on Friday and is a plus-4. All three players are tied for the team lead in points with four. Alexander Semin scored his first goal as a Hurricane on Friday.
“I’ve been really happy with his attitude with the guys, trying to get involved and be a part of the team,” Muller said of Semin. “He’s a game-breaker. He’s a really smart player. He knows the game really well, and he’s the guy that, in a close game, can make the shot and be the difference.”
Following Cam Ward’s 30-save performance in his first win of the season on Thursday, Dan Ellis provided the team with stability in the crease on Friday, as he made 40 saves and earned second star honors in his first NHL start since Dec. 17, 2011.
“Ellis came out with a real confident game in Buffalo,” Muller said. “He took his play from Charlotte right into that game.”
Decision on Faulk Coming Monday
Justin Faulk left Friday night’s game in Buffalo in the second period with an upper-body injury and did not return. Officially day-to-day, he practiced with the team Sunday, but Muller said a final decision would be made tomorrow on his playing status.
“We’ll see how he responds tomorrow from skating and working it today,” Muller said. “If he feels good from the workout today, he could be in the lineup tomorrow.”
For his part, Faulk said he felt OK but noted that he did sit out one drill during practice.
After being listed as a healthy scratch in the Hurricanes’ first two games, Jamie McBain has entered the lineup with a rhythm that bears no residue of sitting idle. He played just over 18 minutes on Thursday and logged 23:42 on Friday. He’s a plus-2 through two games.
“You always want to be out there contributing for your team,” he said. “You have to make sure you’re ready to come in and be effective. That comes in working hard and make sure you’re keeping yourself sharp in practice, and in the first two games, kind of watching from above, you get a look at the game from a bird’s eye view.”
“He’s played really well,” Muller said. “That’s the way it is: when you get your opportunity, you have to take advantage of it, and he did.”
Paired with longtime defensive mate Joni Pitkanen, there seems to be a prevailing sense of comfort between the two.
“We seem to feed off each other pretty well. We’re both pretty offensive-minded guys, but that doesn’t seem to hurt us. If anything, it’s made us stronger with puck possession,” McBain said. “We’re offensive-minded guys but we understand the defensive zone as far was what offensive players are going to do, which I think helps us make the appropriate reads.”
Carrying seven defensemen has allowed the Hurricanes to swap players in and out of their top six. Joe Corvo was a healthy scratch on Thursday before rotating back into the lineup on Friday, as Bobby Sanguinetti did not dress. Should Faulk not be able to play tomorrow against Boston, the Hurricanes will have six defensemen available who have all seen game-action in this young season.
Out-Shooting and Out-Chancing Opponents
The Hurricanes have out-shot their opponents in each of the team’s four games and 11 of the 12 periods. The team has twice recorded more than 40 shots, as they average a league-best 39.5 shots per game. Muller said the team has averaged 21 scoring chances per game and surrendered an average of 14 or 15.
After scoring just two goals in their first two games, Muller said the key was to convert the copious scoring opportunities into goals. The Hurricanes responded, tallying nine times in their last two games.
“We have the firepower in here that we can score goals,” Muller said. “But make sure that we put defense ahead of offense.”
Unscientifically, Skinner has had a propensity this season to score goals on the backhand. Three of Skinner’s four goals, including his empty-net marker on Friday, have come via his backhand.
After scoring one of two in such fashion on Thursday, the 20-year-old forward said, “If it keeps working, I’ll keep shooting on it.”