Carolina Hurricanes’ second line looks to heat up

calexander@newsobserver.comFebruary 2, 2014 

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The The Canes Jeff Skinner (53) celebrates his goal with Elias Lindholm (16) during the first period against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the PNC Arena in Raleigh.

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com

Carolina Hurricanes winger Elias Lindholm took a pass from center Jordan Staal on Sunday and ripped a shot into the net.

Moments later, Jeff Skinner scored.

"That's what we need to do. We need to get some pucks in," Lindholm said, smiling.

The scores by Lindholm and Skinner came during a drill in practice at PNC Arena. What Lindholm wants is for the line to start producing more in games.

Much was made of Canes coach Kirk Muller putting Jiri Tlusty, Eric Staal and Alex Semin back together on the top line three weeks ago. But Muller also made a switch on the second line, putting Skinner and Lindholm on the wings with Jordan Staal.

Skinner was one of the NHL's hottest players in December and early January, scoring 17 goals in a torrid 17-game stretch as he spent some time on Eric Staal's line, then centered it when Staal missed three games with an injury. But Skinner cooled off, scoring one goal in nine games before getting the game-winner Friday in the Canes' 3-1 win over the St. Louis Blues.

"I think the last few games we've had some real good looks," Skinner said of his line. "Finally one went in for us. We need to keep building off that."

Skinner had a team-high six shots on goal against the Blues after nine total in the previous three games.

"He scored, he got his shots," Muller said. "Jordan played a big man's game. I liked the line. I thought that was their best game, probably, as a line and against a pretty good team. That was a pretty good test."

Lindholm noted he was not on the ice when Skinner scored. After Jordan Staal won a faceoff in the Blues zone, Skinner quickly got off a shot for his 23rd goal of the season and a 2-1 lead. Lindholm missed a shift after taking a shot off a foot.

Lindholm did have a hand in the winning goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets last Monday. His pass off the boards to Jordan Staal led to a score as the Canes rallied to win 3-2.

"He makes plays, he's smart," Muller said. "It's pretty nice when you're a kid that age and you're leading by a goal late in the game and you've got confidence to keep him playing. He's very good defensively."

Lindholm, 19, has been slowed by injuries since the Canes' rookie camp in July. The fifth pick of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, the Swede was allowed to play in the 2014 World Junior Championship in Sweden -- missing 10 NHL games -- and returned from the tournament in early January healthy and with added confidence, Muller said.

"He got a lot of ice time and that got him up to the pace," Muller said. "He doesn't have as big a problem with the (NHL) pace as he did."

Lindholm now is being counted on as one of the Canes' top six forwards. He's happy to be playing with Skinner, who has become a good friend, and Staal.

"Having the big, strong center helps me get more space," Lindholm said. "(Skinner) gets space on his side, too, because a lot of guys are watching him. That's good for me."

Lindholm had a goal and two assists Jan. 9 against Toronto in his first game back from Sweden. His assist against Columbus is his only point in the 10 games since the Toronto game.

The Canes' top line has been productive since being reunited, as Eric Staal, Semin and Tlusty have combined for 25 points in the past eight games. But for the Hurricanes (25-20-9) to contend for the playoffs, the second line has to do its part, regardless of the age, experience or makeup.

"You always want to score," said Lindholm, who has four goals and seven assists in 31 games. "I feel like I need to have some points, playing with two good players and on the power play.

"But I think I need to just work hard and not think too much, because it's going to come when you play with such good players."

NOTE: The Canes on Sunday recalled goalie Cam Ward from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL. Ward played two games in a brief conditioning stint, stopping 59 of 63 shots, after missing 13 Canes games with a lower-body injury.

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

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