The Hurricanes' 14-game winless streak finally ended on Sunday. Not coincidentally, the team’s power play had easily its best performance of the season.
Carolina scored three goals with the man-advantage against the Minnesota Wild, which is a season high and as many as they scored in the previous eight games combined. They now have 13 power play tallies this season, four of which have come in the last two games.
“We’re getting people to the front of the net and we’re getting shots to the net instead of spending our time working on the set up,” said Coach Paul Maurice.
Technical improvements aside, the power play shone in recent games thanks to a number of excellent individual performances. Bryan Rodney, Tuomo Ruutu
, Brandon Sutter
and Ray Whitney were on the ice for all four of the recent goals, with Joe Corvo present for all three against the Wild.
For Maurice, what those players were able to accomplish on the power play is a sign that the team’s overall offensive struggles have begun to subside.
“More than any other place on the ice, I think (the power play) is where you see the confidence, and a lot of it has to do with the speed that you move the puck,” he said. “When you’re moving the puck quickly you’re going to get your opportunities, but at the end of the day guys stand in front of the net.”
Although he wasn’t necessarily what caused Tuomo Ruutu
to screen the goaltender, Joe Corvo to get his shots through or Brandon Sutter
and Ray Whitney to provide cool finishes, there has been one common theme in power play resurgences over the last two seasons: Rodney.
Since his NHL debut in December of 2008, the Hurricanes have converted at an excellent 28.2 percent rate in games that Rodney sees significant time on the man advantage. Of the 11 power play goals scored with Rodney in the lineup, the 25-year-old has been on the ice for eight of them, earning four assists.
Rodney is modest about his contributions in that area – he memorably referred to himself as “Joe Corvo’s sidekick” last season – but he does bring an element to the team’s blue line, both on the power play and even strength, which the team could sometimes use more of.
“He’s an offensive, skilled guy that can skate and move the puck,” said Maurice of Rodney. “Right now on our back end we’ve got some big guys back there, but puck movement is something that we don’t do easily at times. That’s fine if you have the lead and you’re just banging people around, but when you need some offense, he can do some things.”
When using the “in games that Rodney sees significant time on the man advantage,” qualifier in determining his stats above, I only needed to throw out one contest, his second ever in the NHL at the New York Rangers, in which he saw just 33 seconds on six Carolina power plays. If you were wondering, the Canes went 0-6.
The significance therein is that, despite his status as an ECHL regular just a few short seasons ago, Rodney has been given a chance on the power play in nearly every major league game that he’s played.
“It helps when you get a little bit of responsibility like that, because special teams are so big in this league,” said Rodney. It’s going well right now, and I’m just trying not to over-think too much out there and just let things fall as they may.”
Whether Rodney becomes an NHL regular or not will depend largely on his defensive consistency. While he’s not the only member of the team with problems in the plus/minus category, he was a -2 against he Wild and was at fault for the overtime winner at the hands of the New York Islanders on Friday night.
Still, give him credit for bouncing back from the potentially traumatic overtime error, which came shortly after he nearly ended the winless streak himself with a great chance at his first NHL goal just moments earlier.
“It’s been a bit of a transition for me, but it’s getting better every game,” he said.
It doesn’t look as though Rodney will leave the lineup for Tuesday’s game in Montreal, as the Canes are currently facing a potentially big problem with getting enough players into the lineup. Maurice said that Joni Pitkanen and Scott Walker would likely not play against the Canadiens, while Aaron Ward is questionable.
If Ward can play, Tim Conboy could slot into Walker’s spot at forward with no problems. If not, the Canes would probably be looking at a call to Albany, which is getting extremely tricky due to salary cap concerns caused by previous call-ups and player signings.
Regardless of that situation, Maurice said that Michael Leighton will get his second consecutive start in goal. He also said that the team was hoping to have Eric Staal, out of the lineup for the last six games, back in the fold sometime next week.