It took a while, almost a fourth of the season, but Jeff Skinner is back to doing his thing again for the Carolina Hurricanes.
In short, scoring goals.
A lot of them. In bunches. From all angles.
Skinner has scored a hat trick in two of the past three games, has nine goals in the past six games and 11 in the past 12. Just like that, the left wing has 14 goals for the season and is leading the team.
Why the sudden scoring tear?
“If I knew I probably would have figured it out a month ago,” Skinner said Thursday.
Skinner had three goals in the first 19 games and a lot of “What’s wrong with Skinny?’ questions were being raised. No longer. In the Canes’ recent four-game road trip, he scored a goal against the Dallas Stars in a torrid third-period comeback, then followed with his first hat trick – the third of his career – against the Anaheim Ducks in a 5-1 win.
You just have to stick with it. Even the past two games some of the uglier chances have gone in.
Canes forward Jeff Skinner
Skinner had an assist but did not score Saturday in a 5-4 overtime win over the Arizona Coyotes, and had the second hat trick Tuesday in the Canes’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
“He’s tenacious on the puck, he’s playing hard, he’s going to the blue paint,” Canes coach Bill Peters said Thursday. “He’s playing well defensively, and that leads to part of his offense.
“Earlier in the year we kept talking about how close he was. Now instead of hitting the posts and going out they’re going in. He’s got to ride that wave while he can.”
The Canes (12-14-5), who host the Florida Panthers on Friday, finally are putting up some impressive numbers. They scored five goals in four consecutive games, and their 23 goals in the past five games moved them to 22nd in the NHL at 2.48 per game.
Skinner, 23, has twice scored more than 30 goals in a season and had a career-high 33 two years ago. He dropped off to 18 last season, leading to speculation the Hurricanes might be tempted to trade him in the offseason.
Peters has toyed with various lines this season but has Skinner on the Victor Rask line opposite winger Phil Di Giuseppe. It has been a productive line and Skinner also has benefited from an improved power play.
“Sometimes, that’s just the way it goes,” Skinner said. “I think it’s a combination of things. As a line we’ve played pretty well and generated a lot of opportunities and they’ve been going in. The power play unit has been finding some chemistry, too, which is always nice.
“It’s hard to put a finger on. Sometimes, it’s confidence and it’s probably a little bit of that along with the line playing well. When you get all three on the line playing well at the same time, you’re able to feed off each other and it kind of creates the perfect storm.”
Against the Flyers, Skinner took a pass off the right boards from Di Giuseppe and scored in the first two minutes of the game, then batted in a rebound in the second period for a power-play goal. His third goal, which tied the score in the third period, came when he skated into the slot for a shot as the Flyers’ Ryan White and Evgeny Medvedev looked to sandwich him.
Though Skinner has played with Rask in the past, Di Giuseppe is a rookie who was recalled Dec. 4 from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL and made his NHL debut the next day against the Montreal Canadiens. Di Giuseppe has two goals and three assists in six games.
“He’s physical, he moves his feet, he’s been real good along the walls,” Skinner said. “I think a couple of my goals have been a result of him being strong on the walls, getting the puck out, us going the other way and cashing in. He’s been real solid.”
Skinner said the slow scoring start was frustrating. He recalled the Nov. 12 game against the Minnesota Wild when he had seven shots on net and another two attempts that hit posts. In the previous game, against the New York Rangers, he hit another two posts and didn’t score.
“That’s four posts in two games … and you look back and think an inch or so and it’s different,” Skinner said. “You just have to stick with it. Even the past two games some of the uglier chances have gone in.”
Skinner has been the streaky sniper before – he had 12 goals, including his first career hat trick, in December 2013 and then began 2014 with his second hat trick. He’s back at it again.
Can he keep this one going for a while? Skinner smiled.
“Hopefully,” he said.
Carolina Hurricanes career hat tricks (since franchise relocation)
13: Eric Staal
5: Erik Cole
4: Jeff Skinner
3: Sami Kapanen
2: Rod Brind’Amour, Ray Whitney, Kevyn Adams, Jiri Tlusty