RALEIGH — It’s not easy to score goals these days in the National Hockey League, even for a player like Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“With the video now and stats, teams are pretty good at knowing what players’ tendencies are, what they prefer to do and where they like to shoot,” Stamkos said last week before facing the Carolina Hurricanes. “You’ve kind of got to reinvent the way you play every year. You can’t stick with the same tactics because teams are so good they’ll pick up on it.”
Stamkos is one of the NHL’s best scorers. The flashy forward had 60 goals in the 2011-2012 season after scoring 45 and 51 in the previous two seasons.
“You’ve got to find ways to get open,” he said. “You have to go to different areas and score different ways.”
Another must, Stamkos said, is being confident that the puck at some point will go into the net.
“At least if you’re getting opportunities, you know they’re eventually going to go in,” he said. “If you’re not getting opportunities, you have to maybe change the way you’re playing. You’re probably cheating too much and forcing too many plays.
“If you play the game the right way, you’re going to get the chances and eventually they’re going to go in. It’s something everybody goes through and you have to find a way through it.”
The Hurricanes are going through it now. While the Canes were 13th in the NHL in shots per game (30.4) and second in power-play opportunities (65) through Thursday’s games, they were 28th in goals per game at 1.88.
Carolina (6-7-3) has scored eight times in the past seven games. After losing five straight, they rallied late for a 2-1 overtime win against Philadelphia on Tuesday, then edged the New York Islanders 1-0 on Thursday at PNC Arena.
The Canes’ only goal against the Isles came when defenseman Ron Hainsey threw the puck at the net and it glanced off Radek Dvorak in front. Dvorak called it a “dirty goal,” but the Canes need more like it.
Eric Staal has gone the past eight games without a goal and Jiri Tlusty the past seven. Tuomo Ruutu now has played 11 games without scoring.
Alexander Semin has one goal in the past nine games and Nathan Gerbe one in the past 12.
“We’ve got to just keep playing our game, shooting the puck. Just stick with it,” Gerbe said.
The opportunities have been there, especially for Staal and Semin. Staal has 26 shots in the past eight games and Semin 27.
“We’re going to keep pushing and some guys are going to break out of it,” Canes coach Kirk Muller said after the Islanders game.
The scoring slump began against the Minnesota Wild, the team the Canes face Saturday at PNC Arena. Carolina lost the Oct. 24 road game 3-1, its only goal coming on a Semin power-play score.
Ruutu has had a slow start to the season after sustaining a leg injury in a preseason game. While his physical play is back – he had eight hits against the Flyers – he has only 14 shots this season and seemingly has been slow to react on potential scoring plays.
“My skating has felt a bit better,” Ruutu said Thursday. “I want to have more chances and I need to have more chances to score and shoot the puck.
“A lot of times when you’re thinking too much, you’re a bit slow. Hopefully I can continue the physical play and be a little quicker with the puck and get those chances. I also think I can be in front of the net more.”
The Canes, like all NHL teams, are well-scouted. Teams know Semin likes to circle and snipe. They know about Eric Staal’s wraparounds and quick shots around the net and how Tlusty can find openings – what Stamkos called the “quiet areas” – to shoot.
But Ruutu said one thing scouting reports and advanced hockey statistics such as Corsi and Fenwick can’t reflect is a player’s inner drive and assuredness.
“You’ve played hockey all your life,” Ruutu said. “If you’ve scored goals before, you’re going to score goals.
“You just need to keep going out and not think so much. Go out and make plays. Make plays and when you have a chance to bury it, bury it.”
Alexander: 919-829-8945 Twitter: @ice_chip