The zeroes were becoming conspicuous, hard to ignore and even harder to explain.
In the first eight games of the Carolina Hurricanes’ season, Jiri Tlusty and Jordan Staal had zero goals.
Both forwards had done their part in games, grinding it out in the defensive zone, forechecking, giving the effort. Both had their offensive chances. Neither could put the puck in the net.
And then Saturday, both did.
In the Canes’ 4-3 road victory against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum, Tlusty scored twice and Staal had a goal. Tlusty was the left wing on the top line with Eric Staal and Alexander Semin, which produced six points as Staal and Semin each had two assists.
“I had been working hard in practice every day and that helped me out a bit in that I’d forget about not scoring goals,” Tlusty said after the victory. “But I’m happy to have the monkey off my back and now I just want to keep it going.”
In the first period, Tlusty was open in the slot. Semin found him with the pass but Tlusty, lethal from that position last season when he scored a career-high 23 goals, shot the puck wide.
“If you’re not scoring, it’s like you have hard hands,” he said. “Usually the puck bobbles on your stick and doesn’t go the way you want it to. That’s the way it was on that shot – it was bouncing on my stick and I knuckled the puck and missed the net. When things aren’t going well you try to force everything on the net and sometimes it’s not the way you want it to be.
“But whenever you get that first one you become more confident.”
Tlusty’s first one gave the Canes a 1-0 lead in the second period. With Isles goalie Evgeni Nabokov focused on Semin in the right circle and Staal in front of the crease, Tlusty was able to corral a rebound and score. His second goal, in the third period, came on a two-on-one rush with Semin.
As the Canes’ best checking center, Jordan Staal has had his hands full in games. He has been solid defensively for the most part, physical, and a factor in games.
In short, Staal had done everything but score. Against the Phoenix Coyotes Oct. 13, he beat goalie Mike Smith with a bullet of a shot late in the second period, only to have the puck hit the crossbar and carom straight down, inches from the goal line.
“It makes you wonder, but you have to keep on doing what you’re doing and keep getting to the net and hopefully one bounces off my (butt) or something,” Staal said before the Islanders game.
Staal scored his first in a more conventional fashion on a second-period power play. Defenseman Ryan Murphy made a sharp pass to Staal in the slot and he did the rest, ripping a shot past Nabokov.
Staal said he can be streaky – not score for five or six games, then pile up a few. He did that for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the past.
“But I’ve been around good teams and know what makes them win and I know it’s not always about scoring goals,” he said. “There are a lot of teams that seem to score a lot of goals and don’t seem to find a way to win games.
“I want to score goals and that’s what I’m trying to do, no question. But obviously I don’t want to give up the rest of my game to do that.”
Tlusty went through a similar scoring slump at the beginning of last season. He didn’t score in the Canes’ first 10 games, then had all his 23 goals in the final 38 games of the shortened season.
“You can get on a roll,” Staal said. “It’s a funny game and it’s a lot mental and about confidence.”
Staal ended the pregame interview by noting, “Once Jiri gets that first one, it will open the floodgates for him. He’s too good a player not to score goals, and I’m just going to get to the net and get one, too.”