RALEIGH — Sometimes it happens quickly. Put three players together for the first time, and it just clicks. Sometimes, it takes a few games, a few weeks for a line to develop an understanding. Most of the time, it never happens at all.
After a first season with the Carolina Hurricanes when Jordan Staal was largely without consistent linemates, there’s some discernible chemistry developing with his recent preseason wingers, Nate Gerbe and Pat Dwyer. That’s not what the Hurricanes drew up going into camp, but in these situations, you take what you can get.
After Gerbe scored two goals in a win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, that line struck again Friday, with Dwyer scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres in the Hurricanes’ sixth and final preseason game.
It was a short-handed goal, but the stretch pass from Staal that set Dwyer loose had all the hallmarks of two players who understand where each other is going, residue of the unspoken communication developed at even strength.
Putting a 5-foot-5 winger with a 5-11 winger and a 6-4 center doesn’t make a ton of sense, but it’s working.
“It’s something they’ve been able to experiment with through three weeks of training camp,” Dwyer said. “We’ve seemed to find a little chemistry. I think the key to it is our work ethic. Granted, our size varies from big to little, but if you keep working, good stuff is going to happen.”
That chemistry will present an interesting conundrum for Kirk Muller and the coaching staff over the next week, leading up to Friday’s opener against the Detroit Red Wings.
The original plan was for Jordan Staal to play with Tuomo Ruutu and (your name here). But Ruutu’s hip hasn’t been right throughout camp, which means no one’s had a real audition for the left-wing spot on that would-be line, and injuries to forwards Alexander Semin, Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm left the Hurricanes scrambling across the board.
Gerbe and Dwyer were both expected to play farther down the lineup, but both have shown an affinity for playing with better players over the course of their careers, and hockey chemistry doesn’t always strictly follow logic.
“It wasn’t the plan,” Muller said. “You know what? I’d like to say we thought of that. With the injuries and all that, we just mixed things around, and it’s been really good chemistry. Jordan’s back playing his straightforward power game, ‘Gerbs’ gives him some speed and skill there and Patty’s reliable. It’s a nice balance.”
The combination may not scare anyone on paper, but it was once again consistently threatening and defensively responsible Friday night. If it continues to generate chances at this rate, any problems it creates downstream are good problems to have.
“Jordan’s such a unique player,” Gerbe said. “He can do it all. He’s kind of a handyman, but offensively he can put up numbers. For myself and Pat, we’re two hard-working guys that also like to make plays. We use our work ethic, all three of us together, and it’s tough on opponents.”
Preseason can feel like a waste of time, and sometimes it is. (Both teams looked like they were ready to get it over with Friday.) There are also times when injuries and other circumstances put players together who might not get that chance otherwise, and the spontaneous chemistry makes it all worthwhile.
This might be one of those occasions, and there’s already a nickname: the Small-Medium-Large line. That tag alone might be worth keeping the three together for a while, if nothing else.
DeCock: email@example.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947