Carolina Hurricanes

Canes’ young forwards a reason for optimism

Jeff Skinner fires a shot before an NHL game played between the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Rangers at the PNC Arena in Raleigh on Dec. 20,  2014.
Jeff Skinner fires a shot before an NHL game played between the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Rangers at the PNC Arena in Raleigh on Dec. 20, 2014. cseward@newsobserver.com

The average age is 21, and it’s a line that might be coming of age for the Carolina Hurricanes.

For now, call it “Skinny and the Swedes.”

Left winger Jeff Skinner is the oldest of the three forwards at 22. Center Victor Rask is 21, and right winger Elias Lindholm 20.

The line has been together the past four games and might be among the youngest in the NHL. Unless coach Bill Peters decides on a switch following a 1-0 loss Sunday to the New York Rangers, the three should be together again Tuesday when Carolina faces the New Jersey Devils in its final pre-Christmas game.

The line has had more good moments than bad. During the 3-2 loss Saturday to the Rangers, Skinner took a Lindholm pass in the neutral zone, sped down ice and beat goalie Henrik Lundqvist on a backhander for a goal.

The three forwards celebrated with a mass hug, their youthful smiles seemingly as bright as the new LED lighting at PNC Arena.

A night later, at New York’s Madison Square Garden, the Rangers scored the only goal against the Rask line early. Rask took a bad angle on Rangers center Derek Stepan below the goal line, allowing Stepan to control the puck behind the Carolina net and find defenseman Ryan McDonagh free in front for the shot and score.

“He goes to the wrong side,” Peters said of Rask. “A mental mistake. A young guy on the wrong side.”

Rask has not been on the wrong side of the puck often, however. Lindholm is another dependable two-way player, and Skinner, while always the sniper, has committed to being better defensively.

“Victor is playing well down the middle and making it easy on us by being so solid in our end,” Skinner said. “It’s fun playing with those two.”

Peters used the Rask line against the Rangers line of Derick Brassard, Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello on Saturday, when the Canes had the last line change. They combined for nine of the Canes’ 20 shots – five by Skinner – while the Brassard line had seven shots and Nash had a career-best 11-game point streak end.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault sent out the Brassard line at times again Sunday against the Rask line, which had a quiet game. Lindholm had three shots, Skinner two and Rask no shots on goal while Brassard and Nash had six each and Zuccarello three.

“Hopefully we can keep playing together,” Lindholm said. “For the chemistry, I think, it’s kind of important to stay together. It’s always hard to get new guys all the time. You get used to someone like ‘Skinny’ in a certain spot and then you get some other guys in other spots. It’s nice to stay together.”

Peters has said when center Jordan Staal returns to the lineup – possibly Dec. 29 against the Montreal Canadiens – he will shuffle the lines. But Staal’s broken leg, suffered Sept. 23, allowed Rask the opportunity to play in the NHL this season, and the rookie has shown he can handle the physical and mental rigors of a demanding position.

“He’s responsible in all three zones,” Peters said. “I just like that line in all three zones and they can play against the other teams’ top two lines.”

Reminded that the average age was 21, Peters deadpanned, “I try not to think about it. Or the fact they were playing against two U.S. Olympians the other day. I never thought about that.”

The Olympians being Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“It’s a challenge for those guys,” Peters said. “They’re young guys, and we’re not hiding anybody. There’s nowhere to hide. You’ve got to be able to play.”

Skinner’s goal Saturday was his eighth of the season. Lindholm had eight shots Thursday against the Maple Leafs and his empty-net goal sealed the 4-1 victory.

Rask appeared to score against Montreal last week, but the goal later was credited to Skinner. At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Rask is strong on the puck and a good faceoff man.

“We think pretty much the same on the ice,” Rask said. “We’re three skilled players, I’d say, that work really hard and help out each other. Lindy helps a lot to create space and has a great shot and good vision, and (Skinner) has some great hands and a very good shot, too. I think we three have something good going.”

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