Tracking the Storm

What's In a Name?

Monday, 03.11.2013 / 2:30 PM ET / Tracking the Storm
By Michael Smith
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What\'s In a Name?
The big three. The top line. The SST line. The STATS line. The international connection.

Michael Smith
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Whatever you want to call the Carolina Hurricanes’ first line of Eric Staal, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty, there is no denying that the three comprise one of the best lines – offensively and defensively – in the NHL.

So, do they have a nickname for themselves?

“No, we don’t,” Tlusty said with a smile. “We are just happy that it’s working for us. That’s all that matters. It’s fun to be on the winning side.”

A simple moniker perhaps isn’t befitting of such an exhilarating, versatile and lethal trio, which has combined for 32 goals and 45 assists (77 points) in 24 games. One of Staal, Tlusty and Semin has scored in all but one of the team’s 14 wins, and the Canes are 13-3-1 when one of those players nets a goal. Staal, who leads the team in points with 30, ranked fourth in the league in game-winning goals with four. Semin leads the team in assists with 19, and Tlusty leads the team in goals with 13.

Conceivably lost in the line’s firepower is its defensive responsibility. Staal, Tlusty and Semin are a collective plus-53, as all three players rank among the top four in the league in plus/minus. It’s a statistic that’s often questioned, but with an entire line firmly in the black, it stands to be an accurate barometer of their all-around play.

“Just from their plus/minus, it’s a good indication of their commitment without the puck,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “They arguably could be the top line in the game right now with their production, but the great thing is their attention to detail of playing well without the puck and respecting the defensive side of it.”

“It’s just saying that we have scored more goals than we have gotten scored on,” Tlusty said of the stat. “It helps the team. We try to be an offensive line, but we don’t want to get scored on, too.”

A sure indicator that Muller trusts the line defensively is when it is the first over the boards near the end of a game in an empty-net situation. The result? Tlusy leads the league in empty-net goals with three.

“I didn’t realize that, no,” Tlusty said, laughing. “That’s pretty funny, though, I’ll take that.”

Muller has also recently paired Staal with Semin on the penalty kill. Staal is averaging just over a minute of shorthanded time per game, and Semin’s average clocks in at about half of that.

“I do [trust them]. Your top players are usually your smartest players,” Muller said. “They react off of the power play. Both of those guys are smart, and they have experience.”

A key factor in the line’s success at both ends of the ice has been the chemistry that exists between the three players. Staal and Tlusty played together for much of the stretch run last season, and Semin has rapidly meshed as an elite playmaker, inconceivably threading the needle to set up Tlusty and Staal.

“We have been playing together for awhile, so we know easily where those guys will be and how to read off of them, how they move and what they do,” said Tlusty, who ranks second in the league in even-strength goals (12). “So you’re kind of expecting things from them more easily.”

“It seems to work now. Of course we want even more, and I think that time will come,” Semin told Dmitry Manakhov of Sovietsky Sport. “It’s more important that the team wins and we are getting points (as a team) and it is less important who’s scoring.”

“When you’ve got your top line playing a good two-way game and capable of playing against any other top line or a defensive line when you go on the road, it’s a nice sign,” Muller said. “They’ve been a great line leading us right now, and it’s a big bonus for our hockey club.”

All three players on the line have skill, speed, great hands and a pinpoint shot. Mix in Muller’s signature attributes of accountability and hard work, and you have the recipe for this yet-to-be-nicknamed top line.

“We all try to play for each other,” Tlusty said. “Everyone makes mistakes, and we’re not perfect, but if one guy makes a mistake, the other two guys try to hustle and make up for it. That’s the success we’ve had. It’s just hard work.”



SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - NYR 82 53 22 7 252 192 113
2 y - MTL 82 50 22 10 221 189 110
3 x - TBL 82 50 24 8 262 211 108
4 x - WSH 82 45 26 11 242 203 101
5 x - NYI 82 47 28 7 252 230 101
6 x - DET 82 43 25 14 235 221 100
7 x - OTT 82 43 26 13 238 215 99
8 x - PIT 82 43 27 12 221 210 98
9 BOS 82 41 27 14 213 211 96
10 FLA 82 38 29 15 206 223 91
11 CBJ 82 42 35 5 236 250 89
12 PHI 82 33 31 18 215 234 84
13 NJD 82 32 36 14 181 216 78
14 CAR 82 30 41 11 188 226 71
15 TOR 82 30 44 8 211 262 68
16 BUF 82 23 51 8 161 274 54

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
E. Staal 77 23 31 -13 54
J. Faulk 82 15 34 -19 49
E. Lindholm 81 17 22 -23 39
V. Rask 80 11 22 -14 33
J. Skinner 77 18 13 -24 31
N. Gerbe 78 10 18 -14 28
R. Nash 68 8 17 -10 25
J. Staal 46 6 18 -6 24
J. Liles 57 2 20 -9 22
J. McClement 82 7 14 -7 21
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 22 24 5 .910 2.40
A. Khudobin 8 17 6 .900 2.72