Joe Corvo was happy to oblige midway through the first period with the team’s first goal at the RBC Center this season, and the Hurricanes never looked back en route to a dominating 7-2 victory over the New York Islanders.
Sergei Samsonov led the way with a three-assist effort and five other Canes had two points as the Canes had their highest single-game outburst to date on the heels of questions surrounding their long-term ability to score goals.
“It was good, because now you don’t have to talk about it anymore,” said coach Paul Maurice. “We score seven, and we’re a scoring machine.”
Jon Matsumoto, playing just his second NHL game after the Hurricanes recalled him from the American Hockey League’s Charlotte Checkers on Sunday, netted his first two big-league goals in the first and third periods. Both were assisted by Samsonov as the two formed a highly effective fourth line along with Tom Kostopoulos, who finished the game with a +4 plus/minus rating.
“Sammy made some great passes tonight,” said Matsumoto, who was the Checkers’ leading scorer with 9 points at the time of his recall. “Both of my goals were directly from him, and if it wasn’t for him I don’t think I would be able to get them.”
“He’s not going to score two every night, but if he can play well in his own end, then we can take some pressure off the Staal line and some of these other lines so they don’t have to play 22 minutes every night,” said Maurice of Matsumoto, adding that he was impressed by the 24-year-old center’s efforts in training camp.
On Matsumoto’s first goal that made it 2-0, Samsonov carried the puck into the zone with speed and weaved through two Islanders before taking the puck wide and making a perfect centering pass for the tap in. Matsumoto had beat New York counterpart Rob Schremp, who was making his season debut coming off a back injury, in a race to the front of the net.
His second, the final nail in the coffin that made it 7-2, was a shot from in front after Samsonov had found him wide open from behind Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro, who was in net for all seven of the Hurricanes’ goals.
“(Hurricanes General Manager) Jim Rutherford came down today and told us that if you’re going to play in the league, at least have fun while you’re doing it,” said Matsumoto. “It’s a lot more fun when you’re winning.”
Also making big offensive contributions were Eric Staal, who had been creating chances over the last week but had not scored for five games prior to tonight, and Brandon Sutter, who had not found the back of the net since the team’s first regular-season game in Helsinki, Finland, back on Oct. 7.
“Goal scoring is always good,” said Maurice. “It makes players feel good about themselves, and we are an energy team. If we have good, positive feelings and lots of energy, then we’re a good hockey team. You don’t want to have a lot of guys sitting too long without scoring.”
Jeff Skinner hasn’t had that problem all season, and he continued his impressive offensive showing with a goal and an assist against the Islanders. His wraparound attempt in the first period after Chad LaRose had forced a turnover from DiPietro caromed out to Corvo on the point for the team’s first goal, and his power-play marker in the third broke a two-game man-advantage drought for the Hurricanes.
With his efforts Wednesday, the 18-year-old Skinner retained his hold of the team scoring lead and now boasts 10 points in his first 12 NHL games.
“He’s a really good kid,” said LaRose, who was Skinner’s linemate against the Islanders. “I look for stuff to pick on him about, and I can’t really find anything. He’s a great player and has a lot of potential to be a great, great player.”
While the outcome of the game was never in serious doubt as the Canes entered the third period with a 5-0 lead through goals by Corvo, Matsumoto, Staal, Sutter and Jiri Tlusty, Maurice still had choice words for his team during a timeout after the Islanders had spoiled Cam Ward’s shutout bid just two minutes in. The Canes had ended the second period on a high after a stellar penalty kill that lasted nearly five minutes and included 1:22 of a two-man advantage, but didn’t maintain that momentum at the outset of the final frame.
“We started to get away from it a little bit, and that happens once you get up by five,” said Staal. “It’s sometimes tough to do the little things and the simple things that got you to that point because you think there’s better plays out there when there isn’t”
Regarding the big penalty kill, which was brought along by a holding the stick penalty by Matsumoto and a four-minute high-sticking double minor by LaRose, Maurice credited encouragement from the home crowd for the team’s success.
“I thought in the first 20 seconds of that five-on-three it was a little tense and a little quiet, and then Sutter blocks a shot, the crowd goes nuts and all of the sudden those three guys on the ice got a lot of energy and are laying their bodies down,” he said. “I thought the fans had something to do with that.”
The only thing that could put a damper on this night was a recurrence of Joni Pitkanen's upper-body injury that caused him to leave Monday's game at Philadelphia and nearly kept him out of the lineup on Wednesday. Maurice said that he did not yet know the extent of the injury to the Finnish defenseman, who played just 6:08 in the first period.
"He was cleared to play and fine, and then he got hit again," said Maurice. "We’ll see tomorrow."
The Canes, who have not had a full team practice since Oct. 26 as they navigate their way through a continuously busy schedule, will again rest on their off day Thursday before heading out to Florida for the first game of a back-to-back, home-and-home set that concludes in Raleigh on Saturday night.