During training camp, newcomer defenseman Andrej Sekera
expressed his excitement to play the Carolina Hurricanes up-tempo system that encourages blue-liners to jump in and be active offensively when they can.
That was accentuated last week in Detroit when Sekera took a tape-to-tape pass from Eric Staal, weaved through the Red Wings’ defense and beat Jonas Gustavsson glove side with a quick snap shot.
“That was a nice goal,” head coach Kirk Muller said with a smile. “It surprised me because he did it so casually. He just kind of breezed through there. He’s a good skater, and I think he caught them off-guard with his speed coming through. He just tip-toed through and scored a nice goal.”
That was Sekera’s third goal of the season. He’d add another goal late in the third period – shorthanded, no less – before scoring again on Saturday in Boston. It marked the second time in his career that he scored goals in consecutive games and the first time since February 2010.
Sekera’s five goals, which ranked tied for the team lead before Sunday, now rank tied for second on the team and tied for third among all NHL defensemen.
“I’m just trying to do the simple things … and so far it’s working,” Sekera said. “When you’re skating and shooting the puck, good things will happen.”
Five goals is also a career high for the 27-year-old defenseman, and the season is just over a quarter of the way complete.
“It’s been nice that he’s putting the puck in the net. I’ve got to give him some crap that it’s a career-high this early in the season,” joked Justin Faulk, Sekera’s defensive partner. “Found that out the other day.”
When Sekera was acquired in the summer on a draft-day trade, Hurricanes President and General Manager Jim Rutherford noted the Slovak’s defensive prowess, especially his ability to kill penalties.
So from where did this sudden burst of offensive output originate?
Muller said Sekera’s offensive abilities were evident in Buffalo at times, but sometimes a change of scenery does wonders.
“He’s really brought an offensive part of the game that’s a bonus. We saw it there at one time, and he’s bringing it out again,” Muller said. “A lot of times, it’s just confidence and having an opportunity. You get a new environment, and you kind of take off. He’s doing that, which is good.”
Confidence also plays into Sekera’s offensive success – the confidence to take the puck in stride, walk through the defense and beat the goaltender with an impeccable shot.
“We’re feeling confident as a whole group back there because in the system we play, we need to be part of the offense as much as forwards need to be part of our defense,” the soft-spoken and humble Sekera said. “We just try to support each other.”
Sekera is now seeing almost double the power play time he had in the last two seasons, and two of his five tallies have come on the power play; before this season, he had two career power-play goals. He’s also averaging an additional 2:47 ice time per game shorthanded. In total, Sekera averages 23:04 of ice time, which ranks second on the team behind his defensive partner.
“I’m just trying to play as hard as I can in any situation, whether it’s the power play or penalty kill,” he said. “Wherever they put me, I try to do my best.”
From the outset of camp, Sekera has found a home to the left of Faulk, forming the Canes’ top defensive pairing.
“We’re reading off each other well,” Sekera said. “When we move the puck D-to-D, keep our feet moving and support each other, we have no troubles.”
“We’ve kind of jelled from day one of camp when they put us together,” Faulk said. “We know how each other is going to play and where each other is going to be. When you have that, it’s easy to support each other and break pucks out smoothly.”
Though he wasn’t exactly known for his offensive production when he arrived in Carolina, Sekera has shown that he has a scorer’s touch from the blue line.
“It’s nice to see that we – or more so him right now – are able to produce from the back-end,” Faulk said. “Whenever you get that, it creates more of a threat back there.”
“He’s made some great reads and some great plays. The goal the other night in Detroit was a great individual play on his part,” Muller said. “He’s playing with confidence, and he’s skating and moving. He’s involved in the play. If you do that, you’re bound to get some offensive input.”