Canes looking for some pop from top line

calexander@newsobserver.comNovember 4, 2013 

— It’s not as if the Carolina Hurricanes, looking to end a five-game losing streak, are going back to square one.

But they are again going back to the line of Eric Staal centering Jiri Tlusty and Alexander Semin, looking to reestablish the scoring foundation they had last season.

Canes coach Kirk Muller made the change Monday in practice, saying Tlusty, in particular, showed a lot of speed and energy Saturday in the 5-1 loss to the New York Rangers.

“I thought that was the best Jiri skated,” Muller said. “Jiri got his jump back.”

The Hurricanes (4-7-3) began the Rangers game with Jordan Staal at center on the line, with Eric Staal moving to the left wing and Semin on the right side. Muller said he decided to put the “big boys together.”

But the big line for the Canes a year ago was Tlusty with Eric Staal and Semin. Tlusty responded with a career-high 23 goals, Staal had 18 goals and 53 points and Semin 13 goals and 44 points.

Staal then suffered a serious knee injury in May at the World Championships, and Tlusty and Semin both were hurt during the Canes’ preseason training camp. The effectiveness they had last season has been lacking, and it has been mostly an offensive struggle for the three forwards in the first 14 games.

Not to mention a team-wide struggle. The Canes have scored five goals in their five-game skid and were 25th in the NHL in goals per game (1.93) through Sunday’s games.

“I think it really comes down to the tempo of their game,” Muller said of his top line. “Last year, (Tlusty) was always the first one in, getting loose pucks, hunting pucks down. Alex was half goal scorer, half playmaker. Eric opened up space. So the chemistry was great. They just weren’t arriving in areas quick enough as they were before (this season).”

Tlusty had two goals and Staal and Semin each two assists in a 4-3 win Oct. 19 over the New York Islanders – a flashback to the line’s play last season. But Muller has made changes during the five-game slide, first turning to the Staal-Staal-Semin line during the 4-2 loss to Colorado, then moving Nathan Gerbe to left wing on the line in a 3-1 loss to Pittsburgh.

Tlusty was back with Staal and Semin for the Tampa Bay game on Friday, but the 3-0 loss to the Lightning had Muller shuffling the lines for the Rangers and putting Tlusty with Riley Nash and Patrick Dwyer.

Muller said Monday he now hoped to keep the Tlusty-Staal-Semin line together. Staal and Semin each have three goals and Tlusty the two against the Isles – numbers that need to improve if the Canes are to make a turnaround.

“I think each, individually, just have to bring a little bit more,” Staal said Monday. “I think we’re not getting in there on the forecheck as much, maybe hanging on to pucks a little too long at certain times. It’ll click back. We just have to keep our legs moving, keep doing the detail parts of the game. If you do that you’ll be rewarded.”

Staal had six shots against the Rangers and said he and Semin each could have had one or two goals had goalie Henrik Lundqvist not been so sharp. The chances, he said, were there.

“Scoring will come,” Staal said. “Jiri led our team in goals last year. Alex has scored a lot of goals in this league. We all can score. You have to believe that and you know that. It’s about doing the details of the game and playing systematically the right way for each other and being supportive on the ice.”

The Canes begin a five-game homestand Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers (4-9-0). Only 1-3-3 on home ice this season – the victory Oct. 6 against the Flyers – Carolina must find a way to score goals and win games.

“We just have to forget about what’s happened and get out there and work,” Tlusty said. “When you have confidence, you see yourself getting the puck and putting the puck wherever you want it. Even when we have been on different lines we have been getting the chances. It’s a matter of confidence. It will happen for us.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip

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