Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters doesn’t like the term “checking line,” saying it’s more a media thing.
“You guys call ‘em that. I just play ‘em,” Peters said.
But if the Canes have a checking line – and they do – it’s Jordan Staal at center with Andrej Nestrasil and Joakim Nordstrom on the wings. Or, to use their nicknames, “Jordo, Nesty and Nordy.”
The line has been together for about 15 games, giving Peters size, speed, defense and the ability to go out against the other team’s best forwards and contain them.
On Monday, in the Canes’ final game before Christmas, it was Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie of the Washington Capitals. On Saturday, with the New Jersey Devils facing the Canes at PNC Arena, it could be Mike Cammalleri, Adam Henrique and Lee Stempniak.
Regardless of the assignment, Nordstrom said the mindset is the same when it comes to the kind of play that’s needed.
“Kind of big and heavy,” Nordstrom said.
Big and heavy is what Peters wants from the Staal line. Be tough in the defensive zone, advance the puck to the attacking zone and then keep it there, making the other team work.
Staal, who has linebacker size at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, is a center who can harass and frustrate opponents with his big frame and long reach. Nestrasil, at 6-3 and 200 pounds, is good with the puck below the goal line while the speedy Nordstrom is all over the ice.
“(Staal) is playing great in the D-zone and makes it easier on us because he always takes the puck out of there and makes a good play,” Nestrasil said. “Nordy is super fast. I always know if I get in trouble in the D-zone and I flip the puck out of the zone he’s always going to be on it. Or if we dump the puck in the (offensive) zone he’s going to be the first one there and create that battle.
“We’ve just been trying to work hard and we’ve built some confidence playing together. It’s been working.”
The Canes’ 2-1 loss to the Caps, the Eastern Conference leaders, had both good and bad for the Staal line. The Backstrom line, so dangerous, was stifled for the most part — no points, a total of six shots.
“It’s a fun challenge, and at the same time we don’t see ourselves as a checking line,” Nordstrom said. “We want to create offense, too.”
Staal, Nestrasil and Nordstrom had four shots on net but were credited with 10 scoring chances by War-on-ice.com, an analytics site. Staal had six scoring chances to match Kris Versteeg, who scored the only Canes goal.
Staal won eight of 12 faceoffs Monday and has been strong on draws much of the season. But in the second period, he was beaten on a defensive-zone draw by the Caps’ Jay Beagle and it led to the winning goal.
Beagle knocked the puck back to defenseman John Carlson at the point for a shot. Forward Jason Chimera went to the front of the net, engaging Canes defenseman Justin Faulk, and had the puck glance off his skate for the Caps’ second goal.
Peters has tweaked the lines during the season, looking for good fits, and had Staal with Nestrasil and Nordstrom for the Nov. 20 game against the Los Angeles Kings. Peters later had Versteeg with Staal and Nestrasil for the Dec. 3 game with the Devils but had Nordstrom back on the line by late in the first period.
Peters also has moved Staal and Nestrasil on to a power-play unit. In the Canes’ 2-1 win last week over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Staal bull-rushed to the net with the puck to score on the power play.
The lines may change as the season moves on, but for now Peters likes the look of the checking … er, Staal line.
“They complement each other well,” Peters said. “They have an identity. They’re comfortable with the way they’re supposed to play and they bring it each and every night.
“I think ‘Jordo’ is skating as well as he ever has here this year. He’s playing with a lot of pace. ‘Nordy’ brings more speed to that line and ‘Nesty’ is a very confident player offensively and hangs on to pucks and makes plays. So it’s been a real good line for us.”