Many questions have been raised about the Carolina Hurricanes as they have stumbled through a seven-game winless streak.
One heard more and more: whats up with Jeff Skinner?
Judging by the numbers put up this season by the winger, Skinner hasnt been the same player since suffering a concussion the second of his career in the Feb. 14 game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has shown flashes of good, creative offensive play, but the consistency has been lacking.
In the 13 games before the injury, including the Leafs game, Skinner had seven goals and seven assists, picking up points in 10 games as the Canes went 8-4-1. After being sidelined five games, Skinner has three goals and two assists in the past 14 games (6-7-1.)
Skinner, in an interview before the Canes three-game trip to Canada, said he had not changed his style of play because of the concussion. Nor, he said, did he believe he was shying away from contact.
"The game happens so fast and its always an adjustment when you come back from an injury, especially when you miss five or six games," he said. "I think coming back you sort of realize theres a time and a place to take a hit to make a play, and theres a time and a place to sort of back off and just get it deep or something like that.
"So maybe a little bit. But I think its so minimal, the difference in trying to adjust your game. Youre always going to wind up playing the same way."
For Skinner, that means buzzing around the net, hunting the puck, looking for ways to beat the goaltender.
Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec saw a lot of Skinner in Tuesdays game in PNC Arena. Skinner didnt score but had a career-high 10 shots, pestering Pavelec before the Jets won 4-1.
On Thursday, Skinner had a mostly quiet game in the Canes 6-3 loss in Toronto. He was on the ice for two goals Alexander Semins power-play score in the second period and Jordan Staals even-strength goal in the third but did not factor in the scoring. Skinner finished with one shot on goal in almost 19 minutes of ice time.
In the first period, Skinner failed to beat the Leafs Cody Franson for a loose puck along the boards. The Leafs maintained possession and took a 1-0 lead on Tyler Bozaks goal.
Skinner, 20, acknowledges he has had "a couple of games where I dont think I have played well." Hes not deceiving himself, or blaming bad breaks.
Much the same happened to him a year ago. He had 12 goals and 12 assists in the first 30 games before taking an open-ice hit from Edmontons Andy Sutton and missing 16 games with a concussion. He scored eight goals in 34 games after the injury and never fully regained his form until playing for Canada in the IIHF World Championship after the season.
Skinner was injured Feb. 14 when he was sent sliding head-first into the boards after a hit from Torontos Mark Fraser. He stayed in the game and had two assists in the Canes 3-1 win, then sat out the next five games.
Skinner scored a goal in his return game, Feb. 28 against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PNC Arena. He had a goal and assist against New Jersey on March 9 in a 6-3 win, then scored a power-play goal March 21 against the Devils.
Skinners power-play score came on a blazing shot from the right wing that Devils goalie Martin Brodeur couldnt track. It was one of his six shots.
Canes coach Kirk Muller said he recently sat down with Skinner to assess his play. He told him he wanted him to be more tenacious, to maintain the "on-the-puck mentality goal-scorers have."
Be hungrier around the net, Muller said. Be more selfish, shoot the puck.
Skinner did that against the Devils and Jets. Against the Leafs, he perhaps was pressing in a game close to his hometown of Markham, Ont.
For Skinner and the Canes (15-15-2), time is fast running out on the season. Theyre in Winnipeg on Saturday in what amounts to a win-or-else game against the Southeast Division leaders.
"You go through ups and downs throughout the season," Skinner said this week. "I still think Im generating a couple of chances a game. Sooner or later those chances are going to go in.
"I can generate more. Keep putting pucks on net. Maybe a bounce will come my way and I can help the team more."
Until then the question will remain: whats up with Jeff Skinner?
Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip