The Hurricanes will have to see how things go against Pittsburgh, but as far as the morning skate was concerned, it was like Cory Stillman never left.
The veteran player, acquired Thursday from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Ryan Carter and a fifth-round pick, slotted right in to his familiar left wing position on a line with Eric Staal and Erik Cole. Prior to Cole’s neck injury in March of 2006, that trio formed one of the most formidable lines in hockey in a season that saw the Canes go on to win the Stanley Cup.
Five years later, and three years since the Hurricanes traded Stillman to Ottawa, the team is hoping to recapture some of that old magic.
“Hopefully I can step in and help them out,” said Stillman. “I think the biggest thing right now is coming to this team and seeing that they’re in the playoffs is exciting. Hopefully the line can get together and score some big goals.”
“I know his game,” said Staal, who cautioned that it may take a few games for the trio to really hit its stride. “He’s a guy that usually looks to pass before shoot, and I’m kind of the other way. He can hopefully find me in those areas.”
While he said he hopes Stillman can jump-start a top line that has seen its even-strength production slow in recent weeks, Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said that the new acquisition would have a positive effect throughout the lineup and particularly on the third line, which should become more of a two-way threat.
“(Jussi) Jokinen, (Brandon) Sutter and (Jiri) Tlusty have played some really good games for us,” he said, referring to the new grouping formed with Jokinen moving off Staal’s wing. “That’s a line we really like, because we can play them against the other team’s best but they find a way to score goals too.”
Stillman, now 37, hasn’t posted points at the same rate he did during his previous stint with the Hurricanes that ran from 2005-2008. However, he said that he expects to improve on his 23-points-in-44-games pace from this season now that he’s in a different system with different players.
“In Florida, if you look at our team we didn’t score a lot of goals and we didn’t even play a style like that,” he said, referring to a Panthers team that ranks 27th in goals scored. “We tried to win 1-0. It’s not going to change a lot here, but obviously playing with two guys that can score goals, I’m expecting my production to go up.”
He should get an opportunity to do so on the power play, as the team hopes he can provide a boost to a man-advantage unit that enters the game against the Penguins in a 1-30 slump over its last seven games.
“He’s got great vision for the game and sees guys on the ice well, but not only that, he’ll stand in front of the net and be a disturbance for the goalie,” said Staal.
“He’s somebody else to control the puck, move the puck and find holes,” said Maurice. “We’re at a point in time where we’d like to get more pucks to the net, and I think he should be able to help us control it in the offensive zone better.”
As much as anything, the Hurricanes and Stillman are happy to be in a comfortable situation from day one, which is rarely the case with late-season acquisitions near the trade deadline.
“You worry sometimes when you bring in a player about how he fits and how long it will take him to understand the people he’s playing with,” said Maurice. “We think there should be a very short learning curve there.
“One of the biggest difficulties of deadline deals is the family and the player moving away,” Maurice continued. “We’ve got a very happy family here as well, so he’ll come here with a free mind and be able to concentrate on playing.”
Although familiar with his surroundings, Stillman has played with just a small handful of players on the current roster, and has never played for Maurice. However, having played for the Hurricanes when they traded for veterans Doug Weight and Mark Recchi in 2006, he seems to be aware of his role as a new player on this particular team.
“If you go back on things Jimmy (Rutherford) has often added an older guy at the deadline, and for me it’s the same thing now,” said Stillman. “Come in, fit in, be a part of this team and do whatever I can to help win.”
Maurice said that another recent acquisition, Derek Joslin, would play his second game with the Hurricanes since last Friday’s trade. Joslin played in Saturday’s loss to New Jersey but sat out the next game as a healthy scratch.
“We’ve seen him play once, and I don’t know that it was fair to take an assessment because he’d been on an airplane all night on the red eye,” said Maurice of Joslin’s hectic post-trade travel schedule. “There will be a little bit more a physical presence with him in the lineup and a little stronger in front of the net.”
When asked to comment on his fourth line for the Pittsburgh game, Maurice named Patrick Dwyer, Sergei Samsonov and Troy Bodie, indicating that Jerome Samson will join Brett Carson on the sidelines.
“I think it’s just added a little bit of an opportunity for our fourth line to create offense and not just hold water every shift,” said Maurice.