Hurricanes' Ruutu going toe-to-toe

calexander@newsobserver.comDecember 20, 2011 

The subject was Tuomo Ruutu's style of play and how the Carolina Hurricanes forward appears to get under the skin of so many opposing players.

"Do I?" he said, flashing a big smile.

Ruutu apparently did with Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa on Thursday. When Ruutu scored late in the second period, on a tip of a Bryan Allen shot, Bieksa knocked him down with a cross-check in the back.

In the final moments of the Canes' 4-3 win, Bieksa picked out Ruutu again for a cross-check near the Canucks' net, this time to the face. No penalty was called either time and Ruutu was not injured.

"When you go into those high-traffic areas and play a physical game, you're going to get some back as well," Ruutu said. "That's pretty much it. I don't talk too much."

"That one I felt"

Not like Chad LaRose. The winger is the Canes' top chirper, at least among the forwards. With Ruutu it's more about the edge and verve in his game that irritates opponents.

Of the first Bieksa whack, Ruutu insisted he didn't really feel it much.

"We just scored," he said, laughing.

And the second one, in the face?

"That one I felt," Ruutu said. Ruutu had a goal and assist in the victory over Vancouver, and an assist in the Canes' 3-2 overtime loss Sunday against the Florida Panthers. That's a modest two-game point streak and came after he had a one-on-one talk with coach Kirk Muller last week in Toronto.

"I said, 'I know you have another level, and the reports were you're a physical guy, and I just need you to play physical, and if you don't you're losing a big element of your game,' " Muller said. "It's nice when you see a response. I thought he really picked his game up."

And the hit in the face from Bieksa?

"Yeah, no penalty (called) there, but that's who he's got to be," Muller said. "He's got to be around the net. He's got to be first on the puck; he's got to finish checks. He's got to be noticeable."

"He has to be noticed"

Ruutu has been used at center and on the wing this season, and the line of Jussi Jokinen, Ruutu and Jeff Skinner has been productive. Muller has made changes with Skinner out indefinitely with a concussion, and has had Jokinen and Ruutu playing with Alexei Ponikarovsky the past few games.

"When 'Ruuts' is playing hard and playing hard-nosed he's more involved," Muller said. "Because he's more involved I think there's more scoring chances. That's how he has to play. He has to be there, he has to be noticed. He can't play on the perimeter."

Last season, Ruutu finished second in the NHL in hits with 309. After Sunday's games he was 52nd in the league with 69 hits in 34 games, putting him on pace for about 165 hits this season.

Ruutu was not credited with a hit in the Canes' 2-1 overtime loss to the Maple Leafs last week. He had two against the Canucks and three against the Panthers.

Ignoring trade scuttlebutt

When a player is due to become an unrestricted free agent after the season and his team is struggling, his name usually pops up in trade speculation. So it has been with Ruutu as the Canes fight to escape last place in the NHL's Eastern Conference and general manager Jim Rutherford looks to change the makeup of the team.

Ruutu, 28, is in the final year of a three-year, $11.4 million contract and is being paid $4.4 million. He's closing in on 500 career NHL games and has the playoff experience from 2009.

The ninth overall pick of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks, Ruutu was traded by Chicago to the Hurricanes for Andrew Ladd in February 2008. The Finn is well-versed about the business side of the NHL.

But Ruutu, who has 10 goals this season, said he ignores trade scuttlebutt.

"I just live my life day by day," he said, smiling again. "I don't think I'm the only player with my name out there."

The Canes do have others who will be unrestricted free agents - Ponikarovsky and defensemen Tim Gleason, Jaroslav Spacek and Allen.

"But for me, I live day by day and it doesn't matter if it's about a trade or whatever," Ruutu said. "Just go day by day and not worry about anything. That's the way I look at this situation, or any situation in my life."

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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