Canes' Skinner is still learning

Canes' rookie adjusts to NHL

Staff WriterNovember 1, 2010 

— Ten games into his rookie season with the Carolina Hurricanes, Jeff Skinner has quickly learned the NHL is more than scoring dazzling goals on Broadway or showing off a winsome smile.

There also are plays that make you wince.

For Skinner, such a play came Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the RBC Center. The Pens led 1-0 in the second period as Skinner took the ice with linemates Tuomo Ruutu and Erik Cole.

The line had clicked for four goals and four assists Friday in a 4-3 road win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Skinner, at 18 the youngest player in the league, had two of the goals and an assist in a smashing debut at the Garden.

But Skinner found himself next to the Penguins' Max Talbot, a savvy veteran forward who is about the same size and weight (5 feet 11, 190 pounds) as Skinner but eight years older.

As the Pens were clearing the puck out of their zone on a pass up the left boards, Talbot and Skinner were side by side at the Pittsburgh blue line near the middle of the ice. But Talbot was off and flying, joining Arron Asham in a two-on-one as Skinner was slow in reacting.

"I think he just sort of got body position on me," Skinner said of Talbot. "He shouldn't have had that body position on me.

"It started in the offensive zone. I saw him out of the corner of my eye. I just saw him a little too late, I guess. I tried to catch up, but he was too far ahead."

Moments later, Talbot banged a shot past Canes goaltender Cam Ward for a 2-0 lead. Skinner was in full chase down the ice, but it proved to be a futile pursuit.

After the Penguins' 3-0 victory, Canes coach Paul Maurice talked of the need of better back pressure from his team's forwards to stymie such odd-man rushes. Told of Skinner's comments, he said it was "one of those lessons you don't want to learn" and added "there really aren't many slow guys" in the NHL.

And while Skinner was on the ice when the Pens scored their third goal, on another rush that ended with Pascal Dupuis whistling a shot past Ward, Maurice noted Skinner did hustle back.

"As he gets more experience, he'll recognize who he is and where he is in the defensive scheme quicker," Maurice said Sunday. "He'll turn and get up ice earlier. He'll know the players better.

"It's all a part of the learning curve. He's not a lazy player. He competes at a high level."

A day after his first three-point NHL game, against the Rangers, Skinner had his first minus-2 NHL game. Again, that's all part of being a rookie. There will be times that remind Skinner he's not in Kitchener - and the Ontario Hockey League - anymore.

Skinner scored his first NHL goal in Los Angeles, at the Staples Center, where the Hurricanes made him their first-round pick - and the seventh overall selection - in this year's NHL Entry Draft. He undressed Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist on Friday with a nasty move and goal that was included in SportsCenter's top 10 plays of the day.

But no one could get the puck past the Pens' Brent Johnson, who had 33 saves. In two home games at the RBC Center, the Canes are winless and have not scored.

Was it a matter of running into two hot goalies, or trying too hard to perform before the home fans?

"It's a combination, I think," Skinner said. "You start squeezing the stick after you've been shut out at home and you've gone that long without scoring a goal in this building. We need to loosen up on our sticks, maybe get a bounce here or there, and things will turn out a lot differently."

Yes, he's learning.

Note: The Canes on Sunday recalled forward Jon Matsumoto from the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) and assigned forwards Zac Dalpe and Drayson Bowman to the Checkers. Matsumoto, 24, has led the Checkers in assists (6) and points (9) in 10 games this season.

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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