In Jeff Skinner
’s first 16 games of the 2013-14 season, he scored four goals. In his last seven games, he has scored eight times.
And he says he’s not eating any differently.
“Sometimes that’s just the way it goes,” he said, flashing his familiar and infectious grin. “It starts with the line. I think the line has been playing real well. We’ve been clicking, we’ve had some good opportunities and I’ve been fortunate to be on the right end on a few of them. It’s been nice.”
Skinner has skated on the Hurricanes’ first line alongside Eric Staal and Tuomo Ruutu since the second of the month. Ruutu he’s played with quite a bit since breaking into the league in 2010-11, but Staal is a bit of a newer linemate.
“When [Staal] is going, you can put anyone on his wing, and he’ll make them look good,” Skinner said. “I think we’re a little more solid defensively this time around, and that’s translated into some more offensive zone time. That’s two big bodies that have been skating, and we’ve been getting in on the forecheck.”
“The line has good chemistry. When we put it together, we took a chance. You never know if a line is going to connect or not,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “Eric has really picked his game up, and Ruuts is really bringing his A-game. He’s playing hard, and he’s playing physical. You put those two guys together, and Skins is smart enough to feed off the openings and can find his space.”
Since Dec. 3, the beginning of Skinner’s lethal stretch, the 21-year-old has averaged 4.86 shots on net per game and 7.57 shot attempts (includes shots blocked and missed) per game.
Not coincidentally, in the five games he tallied goals, he averaged 5.4 shots on net per game and 8.2 shot attempts per game.
When you give a pure goal scorer like Skinner those sorts of opportunities, he’s going to capitalize.
“You don’t get those chances unless you’re spending quality time in other teams’ zones,” Skinner said. “We’ve been generating offense.”
In a stretch such as this, Skinner said the puck doesn’t exactly feel any different on his stick in game situations, practice or otherwise. It’s just that the puck is finding the back of the net with regularity.
“Sometimes you shoot the puck and it doesn’t go in, and sometimes no matter where you shoot it from it finds a way in,” he said. “It goes the opposite way sometime, too, where the other team seems to score a goal off a bad bounce. It’s nice to be on this end of it.”
Like in Phoenix on Dec. 14, when Skinner corralled a loose puck off a faceoff and, while falling to the ice, snapped a bullet of a shot past a slow-to-react Mike Smith. That goal proved to be the game-winner.
Or like in Edmonton on Dec. 10, when Skinner launched a turn-around slap shot that picked the far corner. That goal earned the Canes a point in the standings and forced overtime.
“That’s a good example because I just sort of turned and tried to put it on net,” Skinner said. “Manny does a great job making a screen, and it just finds a hole there and goes in. It was a nice one to have go in.”
And it’s not just that he’s scoring goals consistently; it’s that he’s scoring goals when the team needs it most. His two-goal performance in Washington on Dec. 3 included the eventual game-winner. His hat-trick in Nashville two nights later propelled the Canes past the Predators 5-2. His third period goals in Edmonton and Calgary forced overtime, and he notched the game-winning tally in Phoenix.
“They’ve given us some really clutch goals,” Muller said of the first line.
Despite missing 11 games due to an upper-body injury, Skinner leads the team with 12 goals, and he’s scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace with 21 points (12g, 9a) in 23 games.
“He’s a pure goal scorer,” Muller said. “That line has come up with big goals. They’re playing hard, and they’re playing the right way.”
“He’s a great young player, and he can score goals,” said Hurricanes President and General Manager Jim Rutherford. “He’s doing what he does best.”