Maurice draws the lines

Canes' coach finds some matchups that pay off big against Islanders

Staff writerNovember 5, 2010 

  • When: 7:30 p.m. today

    Where: BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise, Fla.

    TV: FSCR

    Radio: WCMC-99.9

— Carolina Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice has never been hesitant to shake up his lines, but there's always a calculated risk.

The new lines can click quickly and the goals and production can come. Or it can all blow up in his face.

Against the New York Islanders on Wednesday, it fell into place nicely. Maurice made changes before the game and the Canes rolled to a 7-2 victory at the RBC Center as six players scored goals and 11 found the score sheet.

"I'm not a big believer in lines staying together a long time," Maurice said Thursday. "You can get stale. If you play a lot of the same opponents in a stretch of games, you can set the lines and let them stay together, but I like to move guys around as long as they're comfortable with it."

For the Islanders, Maurice moved rookie forward Jeff Skinner to left wing on Eric Staal's line, replacing Jussi Jokinen, who took Skinner's spot on Tuomo Ruutu's line opposite Erik Cole. Jiri Tlusty, who had been a fourth-line winger, moved up to Brandon Sutter's line with Patrick Dwyer while Sergei Samsonov was shifted to the fourth line with center Jon Matusmoto and winger Tom Kostopoulos.

Talk about instant production. Matsumoto scored his first two NHL goals, Samsonov had three assists and Kostopoulos two assists. Matsumoto also was 10-7 on faceoffs, a sore spot for the Canes this season.

"The fourth line probably won the game for us," Maurice said.

Skinner and Staal each had a goal and assist, and linemate Chad LaRose had a pair of assists. Tlusty scored his first goal of the season and Sutter picked up his first goal since scoring twice in the season-opener against the Minnesota Wild in Finland.

Much was made of Skinner, the youngest player in the league, finally playing alongside Staal and the line wasn't lacking for energy. Skinner and LaRose assisted on Joe Corvo's goal that gave the Canes a 1-0 lead and began the onslaught.

"I thought it was effective," Staal said. "Obviously, Skinner is playing good hockey right now and has good instincts."

Skinner, who scored a power-play goal in the third period with assists from Staal and LaRose, now has 10 points (four goals, six assists) and leads the Canes - and all NHL rookies through Wednesday's games - in scoring.

"When you're out with a guy like Staal, he draws so much attention," Skinner said. "It kind of makes more room for me and LaRose to work the wings. To play with him and LaRose, it obviously makes the game a lot easier for me."

Maurice had been hesitant to put Skinner with Staal, wanting Skinner to continue to build confidence in and not have to face the other team's top defensive players. But the time had come.

"Skinner can play with anybody," Maurice said. "All he needs is some speed at center.

"And as much as I liked the Skinner-Staal-LaRose line, I really liked the Sutter line with Tlusty on it. I did not love the Ruutu-Cole-Jokinen line. They had some problems hanging onto the puck. So it can be a double-edged sword."

The Ruutu line, with Skinner on the left wing, had worked well. Jokinen now has not had a point in five games since his goal and assist against the Phoenix Coyotes on Oct. 23.

"He wants it so bad," Maurice said. "He's a good pro. He's doing everything right to prepare for games."

The Hurricanes are back on the road tonight, facing the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla. The Canes will be without defenseman Joni Pitkanen, who left the Islanders game after a recurrence of an undisclosed upper-body injury first sustained in Monday's game in Philadelphia.

"He took a hit in the [Islanders] game," Maurice said. "He passed all the tests but did not feel good at the time he was in the game."

With Pitkanen out, the Canes on Thursday recalled defenseman Brett Carson from the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League.

For the second time this week, Maurice on Thursday canceled a scheduled practice.

"A young team needs its practice time," he said, "but rest also is an important thing. It's easier to hold on to a positive attitude when you're feeling strong."

And feeling good about the lines.

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

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