RALEIGH — Two of the NHLs hottest goal scorers will be on the ice Friday as the Carolina Hurricanes face the Washington Capitals at PNC Arena.
The Caps Alexander Ovechkin leads the league by a pretty wide margin with 28 goals in 32 games this season. The Canes Jeff Skinner has 12 goals for the season, but has scored eight in the past seven games and nine in the past nine.
Id like to keep it going, Skinner said this week.
Skinner didnt just mean him putting pucks in nets. Teaming with center Eric Staal and winger Tuomo Ruutu, the Canes top line has been highly productive of late.
Canes coach Kirk Muller, in talking about Skinners recent surge, said hes healthy. Hes going into the dirty areas around the net, Muller said. Hes getting shots and hes burying them.
Against the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday, Skinner scored in a blink of the eye, leaving Coyotes goalie Mike Smith seemingly frozen in place. After a faceoff, Skinner quickly corralled the puck and snap wristed a shot as he was falling for a 2-1 third-period lead as the Canes won 3-1.
Skinner, 21, believes in the theory that hockey players, like other athletes, can go into a zone where everything seems to come easily, effortlessly.
Its just confidence, Skinner said. When youre confident with the puck, everything seems to slow down and youre sort of relaxed. You dont think too much about anything. You feel like every time you get the puck you can do something with it. Thats the closest I can come to describing that kind of zone thing.
But theres more that goes into being a pure scorer than innate ability. In Skinners case, there has been much offseason skills work.
Skinner said he has worked for several years with Bill Bowler, one of his former junior hockey coaches and now head coach of the LaSalle Vipers junior team in LaSalle, Ont. The sessions once were held three or four times a week during the summer, Skinner said. With Bowler no longer living in the Toronto area, the two got together four or five times this past summer, Skinner said.
We work on one-on-one game situations, Skinner said. He played in the OHL and is a smaller guy. Working on game situations really helps.
Bowler, listed at 5-9 and 180 pounds in his playing days, said the sessions often last an hour but can run as long as two hours.
We work on things that happen in an NHL game and things a player can do when he crosses the blue line, Bowler said. Jeffrey is a determined person and realizes there are always things to work on, and we can practice things you really cant do in a team setting.
Playing the puck off the end boards. Playing the puck off a rebound. How to receive the puck and get it off the stick as fast as possible. Get it up and down. Players have gotten bigger and shot-blocking in the NHL has reached a new realm, so you need to work on ways to get pucks to the net.
Asked if they practiced grabbing a loose puck after a faceoff and ripping a bullet of a shot while falling, Bowler chuckled.
Do we practice that? No, he said. But when a linesman drops the puck for a faceoff, its rarely a smooth puck going out to the winger. You have to be able to control it, manage it, get some heat on it. We do work on those things.
Its repetition, repetition, repetition. Jeffrey would score goals whether he practiced it or not, but he puts in a ton of work.
Skinner has always been a goal scorer. When he played for the Toronto Young Nats in 2007-2008, he had 62 goals in 50 games. Two years later, he had 70 goals in 82 games -- including 20 in 20 playoff games for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League.
That helped make Skinner the No. 7 pick of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He then scored 31 goals and won the NHLs Calder Trophy as rookie of the year for the Canes in 2010-2011.
Injuries have been a problem since that starry rookie season. He has had two concussions and missed 11 games this season with a hand injury suffered Oct. 24 against Minnesota.
But Muller decided to give Staal, Skinner and Ruutu a look a few games back. Skinner had his first career hat trick Dec. 5 against Nashville.
That line is playing so well, Muller said Thursday. Those two (Staal and Ruutu) are playing so hard and creating such a good forecheck that its really opening it up for Skins to find the holes. Five or six shots a game, which is what hes averaging right now, and hes going to score goals.