Canes’ Ruutu, Muller get what they wanted

calexander@newsobserver.comNovember 26, 2013 

— Tuomo Ruutu wanted more ice time. Kirk Muller wanted more production.

For now, player and coach are getting what they wanted.

On Sunday, Ruutu was a winger on the Carolina Hurricanes’ top line with center Eric Staal and forward Nathan Gerbe against the Ottawa Senators. His second-period goal gave the Canes the lead and proved to be the winner in a 4-1 victory at PNC Arena.

After going his first 15 games without a goal, Ruutu has two in the past four games. His first was a bit flukey, the puck going off the skate of Boston forward Patrice Bergeron and then glancing off Ruutu’s stick. The second was more stylish, a quick wrist shot on the fly past Ottawa goalie Robin Lehner.

“I’ve been playing better lately,” Ruutu said Tuesday. “That’s something I expect from myself. I wasn’t happy with my play early in the season, for whatever reason.”

One reason was a knee injury. Ruutu had recovered from offseason hip surgery and came to training camp in top shape, only to be hurt in a preseason game, forcing him to miss practice time and then the first five games of the regular season.

“That doesn’t really matter,” Ruutu said of the injury. “You can always do better. But at the same time you do have to build your confidence when things are not going well.

“I’m doing some good things right now. I’m definitely feeling better and more comfortable.”

Muller said he and Ruutu met recently. The Canes coach said he asked Ruutu to drop by his office, the discussion was frank and the outcome positive.

“We had a good chat,” Muller said. “We talked and he challenged me and I challenged him, in a good way.

“I said, ‘Hey, we’re in this together. I think you can bring more.’ It was the old player-coach ‘play me more than this and I’ll show you.’ And you know what, I think it’s been great. He’s elevated his game.”

Ruutu has been more forceful and effective on the forecheck – in general, more of an irritant to the other team. He has gone to the front of the net, taken a few pops, but also gotten more scoring chances.

“That’s the way I play,” he said. “When I get more of a beating and get a few hits, I usually play better with the puck, too. When I’m on guys and hitting, I’m really moving my feet.”

Against the Senators, Ruutu had a season-high six shots and could have scored two or three goals. The looks were there, with only a nice pad save by Lehner stopping Ruutu on a second-period shot.

Later in the second, Ruutu wasn’t stopped. Taking a pass from Eric Staal as he sped into the zone and past the Sens’ Milan Michalek, Ruutu beat Lehner to the blocker side.

“When you’re not thinking so much, you do everything quickly,” Ruutu said. “When you thinking too much, the play is there but it’s too late. Hopefully I’ll have more goals like that in the future.”

The Canes (9-10-5), who face the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday, are counting on it. Ruutu is one of the team’s highest-paid forwards, drawing a $5 million salary this season and due the same the next two years.

“We need to win games, and I need to do whatever it takes for the team,” Ruutu said. “That’s the mindset I need to have.”

With a minute left in regulation Sunday and the game decided, Ruutu was near the Canes’ bench when the Senators’ Bobby Ryan cruised by and knocked him down. Ryan was given an interference penalty. On Tuesday, Ruutu was able to laugh it off.

“When you give, you receive, too,” he said, smiling.

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

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