RALEIGH — With nine minutes left in the second period Monday against the Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller sent Jiri Tlusty on the ice to join Eric Staal and Alexander Semin.
It’s the line that was so dynamic and effective for the Canes last season. Muller thought it would be the same this season before injuries to all three forwards derailed his plans.
It’s a line, Muller said Thursday, the Canes may have to revisit and rely on in the final 36 games of the regular season if they are to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2009.
“We’re looking for synergy going down the stretch,” Muller said. “When you look back last year, Eric, Semin and Tlusty were a dominant line. We need those three guys to play better hockey in the second half if we’re going to get a better record overall.
“There’s no reason (not) to put them back together. They should be a strong No. 1 line and we should get production from them.”
Muller said he is reluctant to switch up Jordan Staal’s line with wingers Nathan Gerbe and Patrick Dwyer. That means Jeff Skinner, the team’s top goal-scorer with 21, will be the left winger on the third line with rookie center Elias Lindholm and right wing Tuomo Ruutu.
Skinner was playing with Eric Staal and Semin until Staal left the Jan. 4 game against the New York Islanders with an injury. Skinner then centered the top line while Staal was out the next three games.
Skinner, who is among the NHL’s leaders with nine power-play goals, will stay on the No. 1 power-play unit with Eric Staal, Semin, Lindholm and John-Michael Liles.
“When a guy is as hot as Jeff is, you want to make sure you surround him with the right people,” Muller said.
Skinner, who has a team-best five game-winning goals, said he was fine with the shift to the third line. He noted he has played with Lindholm and Ruutu this season.
“As a player, you just sort of go out there and do your job,” Skinner said. “It’s the coach’s job to sort of put together lines. Obviously, he has to balance out that lines and I’m aware of that. I don’t really see it as moving. I see it more as an opportunity for me and ‘Lindy’ and ‘Ruuty’ to get going here.”
Skinner has really been going – in a recent 17-game stretch, he scored 17 goals. Lindholm had a goal and two assists last week in the Canes’ big win against Toronto. Ruutu, in contrast, has not scored and has five assists in the past 14 games.
Then again, no one had a goal the past two games. The Canes (19-18-9) were blanked by Columbus and Calgary.
“Sometimes you just need to shake it up,” Skinner said. “We haven’t scored the last couple of games.”
Eric Staal suffered a serious knee injury in May in the IIHF World Championship, which set him back. Tlusty and Semin both were injured in the preseason, and Semin then sustained a concussion Nov. 16 and was sidelined for almost a month.
Tlusty, who has six goals after scoring 23 last season, underwent an appendectomy on Christmas Eve. He returned Monday after missing eight games and was on the third line until Muller’s second-period move.
Semin has six goals and 18 points in 34 games, but has been a little more productive in the 14 games since returning from the concussion.
Muller used the Tlusty-Staal-Semin line early in the season before making changes.
“We had something going last year,” Tlusty said. “We had confidence in each other last year. We helped each other out when someone made a mistake.
“We can’t just think it’s going to be the same way. We have to work for it. Hopefully, with a lot of effort, we can get back on track.”
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