New Hurricanes making big impact

calexander@newsobserver.comJanuary 28, 2013 

— Alexander Semin now has a goal.

Goalie Dan Ellis now has a victory.

As for Jordan Staal, he seemingly has done everything for the Carolina Hurricanes but score a goal and been in goal.

It’s just been four games, a small sample size, but the Canes’ new guys are earning their keep and feeling better about it.

Staal arguably has been the Hurricanes’ most complete player. The big center has assisted on four goals, hit people, blocked shots, won puck battles, won draws, created traffic in front of opposing goalies and been a physical force on defense.

“He just makes us a better team,” Canes captain Eric Staal, Jordan’s brother, said Sunday. “He’s a presence when he’s on the ice, whether it’s defensively or offensively. Controlling pucks, winning faceoffs, he’s just a very solid, all-around player, and he’s only going to get better. It takes a little bit to get it going.”

Jordan Staal came to the Canes in the mega-trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins in June. Always one of the “kids” with the Pens, he now finds himself centering a line with Jeff Skinner on the left side and Zac Dalpe on the right.

Staal’s 24. Dalpe is 23, and Skinner is 20.

“It’s weird,” Staal said, smiling. “We’ve got such a young group here, which is exciting, and good players, too.”

Semin has been on Eric Staal’s line and the former Washington Capitals sniper has had his offensive chances, denting a few posts but not scoring in the first three games. But with the Canes trailing the Buffalo Sabres 1-0 in the third period Friday, Semin rifled a top-shelf shot that baffled and beat Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.

“You get more comfortable as you go, but I think scoring last game was nice for him,” Eric Staal said. “You always want to get that first one out of the way and now it’s less thinking and just playing.

“He’s coming from a different system that they played in Washington, and it’s going to be an adjustment for anybody. But he’s a fun guy to play with. He’s got a ton of skill and can make plays down low, make plays in the neutral zone and he can obviously shoot the puck. He’s a threat all the time.”

After Semin’s sudden strike, the Canes got goals from Jay Harrison and Skinner for a 3-1 road victory, making Ellis a winner in his first start in net for Carolina. Ellis, who relieved Cam Ward after the first period in the season opener at Florida, had 40 saves against the Sabres.

It has been some ride for Ellis, 32. A torn groin muscle limited him to 10 games last season for the Anaheim Ducks and he went into this season without a job. Given a tryout with the Charlotte Checkers, the Canes’ AHL affiliate, the veteran played so well in the AHL during the NHL lockout that he earned both a NHL roster spot and an NHL contract.

“Having minutes during the lockout, that’s a huge benefit, especially for a goalie,” Ellis said Sunday. “It’s all about timing and it’s always going to take a goalie a couple of games to get a little bit of a feel. I had the opportunity to play 18 games. That’s huge and definitely gave me some comfortability, being in the same organization, playing in the same system down there. It was an easy transition.”

Ward will be back in goal Monday against the Boston Bruins at PNC Arena. But Canes coach Kirk Muller won’t hesitate in using Ellis in any situation.

“He was confident before he went in the game, but he certainly walked in and gave our guys the feel he could win that game for us and he played exceptionally strong,” Muller said. “That’s where his experience helped out, going in and understanding his role and coming up with a huge win for us.”

The back-to-back wins evened the Canes’ record at 2-2, but they’ll be facing a Bruins team that’s 3-0-1. Muller said Sunday that he would not know until the morning skate Monday if defenseman Justin Faulk would be available.

Faulk suffered an upper-body injury late in the second period Friday and did not return to the game. He did practice Sunday at PNC Arena.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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