Paul Maurice has been very creative this season when it comes to arranging his forward unit. If the Canes three-goal third-period rally against Philadelphia on Saturday was any indication, he may be on to something.
In that game, the team’s comeback effort was led by the trio of Matt Cullen at center with Jussi Jokinen and Eric Staal on the wings. While natural positions are getting harder and harder to define, those three players have predominantly been used at centers up until now.
However, while that grouping may seem odd, the results spoke for themselves.
“I liked where our top six [forwards] were at after those changes,” said Maurice. “How it gets into the game and if we move somebody around, we’ll do that on a weekly basis, but I wouldn’t mind seeing this run for a while.”
Staal started the game on the left wing with Jokinen at center and Patrick Dwyer on the right, but moved over to the right wing himself about halfway through the Philadelphia contest. Despite playing all three forward positions in the span of just two games, Staal seemed to find a comfort level on the right side.
“It’s obviously different than center, but once you get going you start to feel more comfortable,” he said. “I thought with Jussi and Cullen we started to create some offense and went on the attack with some speed and score some goals, and hopefully that will continue.”
According to both Maurice and Staal, the right wing position is the easiest forward position to play because it requires less defensive responsibility and neutral-zone work than at center or on the left. They believe putting Staal in that situation will help free him up to do more on the offensive end.
“It really allows you to go skate and be aggressive on the forecheck,” said Maurice. “It allows him to use his speed, and I thought when he went there he looked like the fella that we’ve seen before,”
“On the right there’s less thinking and more skating, and that’s my game with being on the move and using my legs to create open ice,” said Staal. “The right side suits my game better and I felt a lot better there in the third period.”
While Staal’s immediate future for his club and potentially his country during the Olympics lies on the wing, he was quick to point out that he hopes the move is temporary, and that he can return to center for the long haul.
“I don’t think this is a permanent thing,” said. “I much prefer center, but under the circumstances right now this is where I’m going to play. I felt pretty good out there, and the main thing for us is winning games.”
Having three centers on one line created an opening on the third line, which Patrick Dwyer is currently filling. Dwyer said he played his first few years as a professional at center and has a comfort level there, even though he has predominantly played on the wing.
That move and others (view full lines here), leave only three or four forwards on the Hurricanes roster that have played in one position all season. That’s likely to continue in the future, with Maurice indicated he might use Tuomo Ruutu at Center once Erik Cole returns to the lineup, which will hopefully occur in early January.
”There’s a lot of different options with those guys, and we’re trying to think outside of the box a little bit here and not continue hammer the same things when a guy’s just not scoring,” said Maurice.