RALEIGH — Jeff Skinner was one of the last off the ice Saturday at the Carolina Hurricanes’ practice, even after a strenuous workout.
After many of the Canes had left and showered, Skinner stayed out with defenseman Ryan Murphy, skating, shooting the puck, having some fun at Raleigh Center Ice.
Skinner has a team-leading six points in the Canes’ 2-1-2 start, scoring his first goal Friday in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Los Angeles Kings. There seems to be more bounce in his step, more energy in his game this season.
“I think as a team we’ve put together a pretty solid five games, with the exception of the Pittsburgh game,” Skinner said. “I think with where I am in the lineup … we’re pretty happy with the way we’ve been playing. It’s been nice to get off to a good start, not just personally but as a team.”
Skinner, 21, was a 31-goal scorer as a rookie in the 2010-2011 season, when he won the Calder Trophy. His past two seasons have been marred by concussions, which kept him out of the lineup at times and affected his timing, stick-handling and scoring when he returned.
Skinner had 13 goals and 11 assists in 42 games in last year’s shortened season as the Canes finished 19-25-4 and again missed the playoffs. There weren’t many smiles – for Skinner or anyone else.
“Last year was a little bit of a frustrating year, for me and obviously for the team,” Skinner said. “Down the stretch we kind of let it get away. But you start the year fresh, and I think we’re sort of playing the right way. When you do that, there’s a good feeling around the locker room.”
Skinner, slotted as the third-line left winger this season, picked up his first goal on a power play. Whacking the rebound of an Andrej Sekera shot past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick to tie the score 1-1, he fired off a low uppercut after the goal, only to be knocked down when he bumped into teammate Ron Hainsey.
“I’ve got to keep my head up in celebrations, I guess,” he joked.
Skinner seemed just as excited Thursday in the 3-2 win in Washington. He had the primary assist as rookie Elias Lindholm scored his first NHL goal, the puck nicking the stick of Caps defenseman John Carlson on the shot.
“It’s something I’m sure he won’t forget, and to be a part of that is pretty cool,” Skinner said.
Lindholm suffered an upper-body injury Friday and will not play Sunday against the Phoenix Coyotes, Canes coach Kirk Muller said Saturday. Lindholm was being used as the third-line center against the Kings, and Skinner was shifted to center when Lindholm went out.
Although Muller liked Skinner’s play at center, he said Riley Nash would center the line with Skinner and Radek Dvorak on the wings. Nash was a healthy scratch against the Kings, and Muller said he wanted to see more “fire” in Nash’s game.
Muller met with Skinner before the season and told the forward he wanted more consistent two-way play. The message: be creative, be a scorer, but also be more active, smarter and gritty on defense.
“He’s working harder,” Muller said. “He’s an opportunist and he’s getting the opportunities and he’s capitalizing now. He’s in the right spot in the lineup. Some people say, ‘Oh, he’s on the third line …’ He can play anywhere, but I think he’s comfortable there. His minutes, where they’re at, he’s looking fresh.
“Without the puck, I think he’s a little more receptive and concentrating on playing well defensively.”
Skinner said he’s trying to be more effective in the defensive zone and will continue to work at it.
“I’m not going to sit here and say I’ve figured it all out,” he said. “It’s a process, and you have to be committed to it. It’s about being consistent and being committed to playing the right way.”
Quick hits: Defenseman Justin Faulk had a “maintenance day” Saturday and did not practice. Faulk is expected to play against the Coyotes. … Muller said he would wait until Sunday morning to name the starting goaltender. Cam Ward was in net Friday against the Kings. … Forward Tuomo Ruutu has been medically cleared to play, Muller said, and worked with the fourth line Saturday.