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Top Line from 2012-13 Reunited

Thursday, 01.16.2014 / 3:30 PM ET / Tracking the Storm
By Michael Smith
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Top Line from 2012-13 Reunited
Following two consecutive shutouts, the Carolina Hurricanes have shuffled the lines in search of scoring answers.

Michael Smith
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Head coach Kirk Muller is turning to what was one of the best lines in the National Hockey League last season to lead that charge. As was the case for the latter half of Monday’s game versus Calgary, Eric Staal centered Jiri Tlusty and Alexander Semin in practice on Thursday in what was a two-part, 75-minute skate.

Last season, the trio combined for 54 goals and 81 assists (135 points). Staal, Semin and Tlusty were the top three in team scoring, in that order, and all were plus players; Tlusty was a team-leading plus-15, and Semin was a plus-14. Tlusty set career highs in goals (23) and points (38) in just 48 games, and Tlusty’s 23 goals ranked tied for fifth in the NHL.

This season has been a bit of a different story. Each has missed time with injury – Staal missed three games, Tlusty missed eight games and Semin missed 12 games – and for much of the season, the three have been separated; while Staal has played with Semin for most of the season, the left side has featured a varied supporting cast, including Tuomo Ruutu and, most recently, Jeff Skinner.

“We’ve got a lot of good things going on in our game right now. At the beginning of the year, with nine new guys in our lineup, we were seeing how they fit in as pieces of the puzzle,” Muller said. “A lot of the guys that have come in have done a great job and fit in whether it’s power play, PK, different roles and all that. So we’re looking for synergy going down the stretch.

“Jordan’s line has been really good for a long time, so we don’t want to play around with that. But you look back to last year – Eric, Semin and Tlusty were a dominant line. We need those three guys to play better hockey in the second half if we’re going to get a better record overall,” Muller continued. “They should be a strong No. 1 line, and we should get production from them.”

There’s also added motivation for the trio, as each was left off his respective Olympic team roster. Semin was considered a virtual lock. After capturing a gold medal with Team Canada in 2010 and captaining their World Championship team over the summer (and then suffering a knee injury), Staal was seen as a probable choice. Considering the scoring ability Tlusty displayed last season, his stock was also quite favorable.

But the numbers haven’t quite been there this season. Staal is tied for the team lead in points with 35 (10g, 25a), but even that wasn’t enough. Proving they belonged in Sochi should help to bolster their play down the stretch, and after Staal and Tlusty returned to game-action on Monday, this week of practice should have them raring to go for the final 35 games of the season.

With Jordan Staal’s line remaining in-tact (Patrick Dwyer will be back for this weekend’s games, Muller said), the third and fourth lines – Muller doesn’t even prefer to call them that – have a bit of a new look. Elias Lindholm will get another look at centering the third line, with Skinner, the team’s leading scorer (21 goals), and Ruutu flanking on either side.

“We’ve got to see where Lindy’s at. It’s an important position on a hockey team, and he’s got good chemistry with Skins. When you have a guy as hot as Jeff is, you want to make sure you surround him with the right people, but he seems to adapt to different personnel. He’s a little unique,” Muller said. “We tried that trio there, and if it works, each line has an identity of what we’re asking them to do.”

Drayson Bowman (lower body) missed practice again today but should be ready by the weekend, according to Muller. He’ll likely play the left side on the fourth line with Radek Dvorak on the opposite wing and Manny Malhotra in the middle.

“Maybe the six goals against Toronto set us off track,” Muller mused earlier in the week. “Where we got to get back to this week is, hey, we have to play hard, play the right way, defend well, play well without the puck and be hard to play against, and then when we do get the puck, we have to find ways to get through some of these teams to get second and third chances. We’ll score on odd-man rushes and certain plays and all that, but … we’ve got to get to the net, get hungry and get to those areas.”



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EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 WSH 51 38 9 4 166 114 80
2 FLA 53 31 16 6 143 118 68
3 NYR 53 30 18 5 150 135 65
4 TBL 52 29 19 4 138 123 62
5 BOS 52 28 18 6 151 137 62
6 DET 53 27 18 8 133 131 62
7 PIT 52 27 18 7 138 132 61
8 NYI 51 27 18 6 143 127 60
9 NJD 54 26 21 7 120 122 59
10 CAR 54 24 21 9 130 142 57
11 MTL 54 26 24 4 143 143 56
12 OTT 54 25 23 6 153 166 56
13 PHI 51 23 19 9 121 133 55
14 BUF 53 21 26 6 120 139 48
15 TOR 51 19 23 9 117 140 47
16 CBJ 54 21 28 5 135 168 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Faulk 54 15 19 -13 34
J. Skinner 54 19 12 -3 31
V. Rask 52 12 19 0 31
J. Staal 54 12 19 8 31
K. Versteeg 53 10 21 1 31
E. Staal 54 9 21 0 30
E. Lindholm 54 8 16 -9 24
A. Nestrasil 47 7 12 0 19
J. Nordstrom 43 5 9 2 14
R. Hainsey 54 3 11 -11 14
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 15 11 6 .908 2.38
E. Lack 9 10 3 .901 2.74
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