Ruutu Playing to his Strengths
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In the Hurricanes’ last five games, Ruutu’s 8 points (2 goals, 6 assists) rank first on the team. That stretch includes a four-point performance on New Year’s Day against New Jersey and only one game in which he did not record a point - the Canes’ most recent contest against Florida.
What one might notice about that streak, or perhaps didn’t notice, was that flashy plays were few and far between. There were no end-to-end rushes or fancy dekes. Only fervent fans of cycling down low and strong presence around the net would be deeply moved by any of the Finnish forward’s recent scoring plays.
While he may not be earning style points, it seems that a rededication to his bread and butter is what’s allowed Ruutu to resume putting up points where it matters.
“He has to trust himself to just do simple things as fast as he can, and when he does that he’s got a good little set of finishing hands,” said Hurricanes’ coach Paul Maurice. “He can make good plays at the end, but where he gets in trouble sometimes is when he tries to make them at the beginning of the play. He just needs both strength and speed, which is what he has.”
Ruutu’s 28 points now rank tied with Jeff Skinner for second on the team behind captain Eric Staal, but he had not been scoring nearly as consistently early in the season. He had just 2 points in the team’s first eight games and had another dry spell in late November and early December in which he scored no goals and logged just 2 assists over a six-game period.
“I thought there was a lot of overly-creative, low-payoff stuff that he was trying,” said Maurice.
In order to help Ruutu get back to what makes him most successful, Maurice had to send a different message than he normally uses with scorers that are struggling to score.
“That’s the difficulty when you get a guy like that,” he said. “Most guys you bring them in and say that the simple reason that you’re not producing is you’re not working hard enough. With him, that’s never the case. It’s a matter of simplifying what he does with the puck.”
“I’m not the type of player that can do things by myself,” agreed Ruutu. “Skinner and Staal are guys that can do damage on their own like that, but I’m playing my best game when my linemates are using each other.”
That seems to be the case at the moment, with Maurice calling Ruutu’s line with Skinner and Chad LaRose the team’s best in the win over New Jersey for their patient work down low and usage of the points to create shots and traffic in front of the net.
“On that line now, we’ve got a little bit of everything,” said Maurice. “Ruutie is a big banger, Rosie can control the puck and hang onto it and Skinner can make plays and score.”
Speaking of physical play, Ruutu posted a game-high eight hits against Florida, showing he can still make an impact in the recently rare occasions that he does not register a point.
Ruutu’s scoring run would seem to at least partially coincide with a move back to the right wing position that he’s occupied for the vast majority of his 416-game NHL career, save for the beginning of his rookie season with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2003-04 and a handful of games this season.
He says he’s comfortable either way, but feels that playing on the wing allows him to get where he’s most comfortable and where almost all of his recent points have come – in front of the net.
“I feel like I get better chances to score when I’m on the wing and can go straight to the net because I’m not the first guy coming into the zone,” he said. “At center you come in with more speed, so that’s good too.”