During the Canes’ struggles earlier in the season, it was said often: “Our best players need to play like our best players.”
That hasn’t been a problem lately. Eric Staal’s hat trick last night gave him 13 points in his last nine games, including three separate three-point efforts.
He’ll get most of the accolades for the 5-4 win against the Thrashers, and rightfully so. All three of his goals came in the third period, when he seemed to decide that the Hurricanes simply were not going to lose and powered the puck to the net regardless of who may have been in his way. His last two goals, both of the unassisted variety, speak to that determined individual effort.
But let’s not forget another one of the Canes’ offensive leaders, Ray Whitney, who has matched Staal point-for-point in over that same nine-game stretch. With three assists, his three-point night against the Thrashers may not have had quite the luster that Staal’s did, although his brilliant behind-the-back pass on Patrick Eaves’ first goal of the season was up there with everything Staal did on the highlight scale.
“Those guys have to be the difference over the haul, and they will be one way or another,” said coach Paul Maurice. “Those players are always the difference in your season, and we’re getting some pretty fine performances from both of them.”
What makes Staal and Whitney’s performances even more significant is that they don’t play on the same line. If they were paired together, it would be easy to explain their equally high scoring outputs. In reality, they’ve only figured in on the same goal twice during that nine-game span – a power play goal last night and another two games ago at Montreal.
That gives the Canes two dangerous scoring lines – Staal’s with Tuomo Ruutu and Sergei Samsonov and Whitney’s with Rod Brind’Amour and Scott Walker – although Maurice said today that he’d like to see both of them on their game on the same night, rather than alternating games where one line will take the forefront while the other one is relatively quiet, which Maurice called a “toggle effect.”
In addition to finding that consistency, Maurice said he’d also like to see more production from the rest of the lineup, particularly Matt Cullen’s unit, now featuring Chad LaRose and Justin Williams. Those three have only combined for six points in Maurice’s tenure as coach.
“I still think the X-factor is Cullen’s line and Sutter’s line,” said Maurice. “Sutter’s line in terms of zone possession has been very good for us, but I still think Cullen’s line has another gear. I think LaRose being on that line has given them a chance to create some offense and they’re starting to generate some chances, which is a positive, but I think those guys are going to have to start scoring for us.”