During a media scrum Friday after the Canes' 5-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils at PNC Arena, Jeff Skinner noted, "It's probably one of my worst games back."
Skinner had scored a goal but didn't like his play. On Sunday, in the 3-2 loss to Vancouver, the winger had just five shifts in the third period and the last shift was for 17 seconds.
Skinner knew he had to be better and he was Tuesday. A lot better. Put on Eric Staal's line with Tuomo Ruutu, he had season-high seven shots, scored twice and set up a third goal in the 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals.
The line accounted for 15 of the Canes' 32 shots as Ruutu had five and Staal three. Staal had two assists in the game and Ruutu closed with five hits.
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"I think we got in on our forecheck pretty well," Skinner said. "I think the D men did a great job of shortening the gap. They've got some dangerous players and if you give them some time and space in the neutral zone they can make some plays on the rush. Our D men did a great job of moving the puck up quick and allowed us to get on the forecheck and I think we did some good things down there.
"I think all three of us were moving our feet pretty well. If you start there good things happen."
Canes coach Kirk Muller used the Skinner-Staal-Ruutu combination at times during the Vancouver game, and he the decision was made to "put our big boys together" again for the Caps and see what happened. Carolina went into the game 29th in the NHL in goals per game (2.1), just ahead of Buffalo.
"They needed to find a way to get the job done and they did," Muller said. "Hats off to them. (Ruutu) has worked really hard on that line and overall that line produced and that's what we needed."
Skinner's first goal gave the Canes a 1-0 lead for the ninth time this season. Taking a pass from Staal, Skinner got off shot from a bad angle that beat Caps goalie Braden Holtby short side, the puck squeezing through a hole near Holtby's skate.
"I just kind of threw it to the net," Skinner said. "There were a lot of bodies in front. Sometimes, you get lucky and it finds a way in. It was nice to get that one."
His second goal, midway through the second, made it 2-0 and the Canes pushed the lead to 4-0 after two. Playing his 205th career game, Skinner was looking for his first hat trick and his teammates were looking for him.
"I didn't want it I guess," Skinner said, smiling.
Told he now had nine two-goal games but not the hat trick, he said, "I think this was the earliest I had two. They kept trying to find me and I kept not wanting to put it in for them."
Skinner smiled again when told it seemed like a replay of the 2011 NHL All-Star Game in Raleigh, when his teammates futilely tried to set him up for a goal before the home fans.
"I thought of that in the last couple of minutes," he said. "I guess the chances were there, which is a positive. I'll have to wait for that one."
In seven games since returning from a hand injury suffered Oct. 24 at Minnesota, Skinner now has three goals and two assists. More importantly for the Canes, they ended a two-game slide with a good road victory.
"What we're trying to build toward here is playing that solid 60 minutes," Skinner said.