Hello and welcome to a weekly feature on CarolinaHurricanes.com in which I take your Twitter questions about the Carolina Hurricanes or other assorted topics and answer them in mailbag form. Hopefully, the final product is insightful to some degree, and maybe we have some fun along the way.
Let’s get to it.
How important has the fourth line been to the Hurricanes’ recent success? – Eugene D. (B_Low_)
I think it has been extremely important.
Let’s examine it strictly from a statistical standpoint. The Hurricanes have scored an average of 2.7 goals per game in January, compared to just 1.3 goals per game in December. A number of factors have contributed to this increased offensive output, and a big one is the production from the fourth line.
The trio of Brad Malone, Jay McClement and Patrick Dwyer has combined for 13 points (5g, 8a) in January, and the Canes are a perfect 5-0-0 this month when the fourth line scores a goal. Malone posted points in three straight games before the All-Star break, and he scored goals in Ottawa and Toronto.
“It makes a difference when you can score with depth. It gives everyone else a boost, and it helps everyone going forward with a little bit of confidence,” Malone said after a 4-1 win in Toronto. “When four lines contribute, that makes a big difference.”
“It's a real good line. You look at the contributions on the penalty kill from J-Mac and Patty Dwyer, it's outstanding. Bugsy has figured out his role, and he's comfortable in it. He's real good on the bench, and he's an energy guy,” head coach Bill Peters said after last Monday in Toronto. “I think it's a real good line, and I have a lot of confidence in that group.”
But the reason the team now has an effective fourth line is because it has a healthy group of 23 players, and the coaching staff can slot guys in roles of which they are capable. When injuries plagued the Canes early in the season, certain players had to be overslotted simply to fill in the gaps.
“When you have injuries, it moves guys into roles that they’re not best suited for,” said Canes general manager Ron Francis in a recent interview. “Getting healthy in game 41 allowed us to structure guys in the roles that we saw them being in at the start of the year.”
“We’re playing pretty solid right now, and we’ve got a good feel in the lineup with guys knowing their roles and what’s being asked of them,” Eric Staal said after a 4-2 win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.
Prior to the season, the vision was to have Malone, McClement and Dwyer comprise the team’s fourth line. That’s been the case for a few weeks now, and the results are evident.
“They’ve been together now for a little bit,” Francis said. “Not only are they playing well but they’re producing offense for us, which is a bonus in that role.”
Victor Rask progression ahead of schedule? – Ben B. (@Sormy_Canes)
I would say so. According to Francis, he was penciled in as the No. 1 center in Charlotte coming into this season. He was to log big minutes and play in all situations.
But, he clearly took that extra step over the summer, and it made a difference in the Prospects Tournament in Traverse City. He continued to demonstrate that he belonged with the big club throughout training camp, and I think he would have claimed a roster spot even if Jordan Staal had not been injured. But he did get injured, and Eric Staal missed a couple of weeks in October, as well, and Rask was thrust into a rather prominent position in the lineup – and he didn’t particularly look out of position.
Rask’s reliable play down the middle opened the door for the Staal brothers to play on the same line, which has been supremely effective in establishing a dominant first line.
His numbers might not be the flashiest, but he’s been a consistent and responsible two-way forward for the team this season – and he’s just 21 years old.
How do the players feel when some fans are calling for them to keep losing? – Leigh (@NCCaniac42)
That comes with the territory, right?
When a team is near the bottom of the standings and there are a couple pretty good (from what I’m told) draft picks available, there will be calls to continue being bad in order to land said draft picks.
But that’s not what the locker room – from the players to the coaches – gets paid to do.
“That’s out of our control. I’m not going to put my equipment on and do anything but play my best, score goals and try to win games. That’s everybody in this room,” Eric Staal said. “That’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s what we’re engrained to do, regardless of what you feel otherwise. You go out there, compete and work, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Join me next week for more questions and more answers!
If you have a question you’d like answered or you’d like to know what you should watch on TV tonight (THE AMERICANS), you can find me on Twitter at @MSmithCanes (or drop an email here).