After back-to-back shutouts to start the season at the RBC Center, the Canes now have 17 goals over their last three games in Raleigh. The latest addition to that total was a dominant 7-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night.
Leading the way offensively was captain Eric Staal, who tied a five-year-old career-high with 4 assists to go along with a game-high 8 shots on goal. Joining the fun were Joe Corvo, with a two-goal effort on the power play, and rookie Jeff Skinner, whose goal and 2 assists now have him as a point-per-game player in the NHL.
The outburst marked the second time in their last three home games that Carolina has hit the seven-goal mark, having bested the New York Islanders 7-4 just six days earlier.
“Hopefully it’s just the pace and the energy, and the goals are coming because of that,” said Staal. “I don’t think we’re going to score seven every night, but if we play that consistent brand of hockey we’re going to win a lot more than we lose.”
“The way we won this game tonight was the same way we won the game against Florida, and that was a tight game,” said coach Paul Maurice of his team’s most recent contest, a 3-2 victory on Saturday. “They had a tough night, the Oilers did.”
The outcome of this one was never truly in doubt, as Patrick Dwyer got the Hurricanes on the board just 26 seconds into the game when a Brandon Sutter rebound went in off his skate as he went hard to the net. Erik Cole and Corvo would add power-play goals soon after, with Chad LaRose later finishing off a four-on-two rush.
By the time the first 7:19 of the game had elapsed, the score was 4-0 Carolina.
“It seemed like every bounce went our way this game, but we earned them,” said Skinner. “We came out hard right from the first shift.”
Skinner, who now has 15 points in his first 15 games as a professional, was instrumental in the early outburst with a pair of nice passes on a new-look Carolina power play that featured the red-hot line of Skinner, Cole and Tuomo Ruutu with Corvo and Staal manning the points. On the first, his slap pass to the middle of the ice was redirected by Cole, with Corvo the beneficiary of a cross-ice feed on the second that beat goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin.
“It kind of branched out from our five-on-three the other night,” said Maurice of the successful five-man unit that scored a key goal in the win over Florida. “The Ruutu line has got some good chemistry there, and Eric is our big shooter. We just thought we’d try to extend that out to our five-on-four.”
“Tonight I thought they were cheating to the middle more a little bit for me and Joe,” said Staal, who earned the secondary assists on both first-period power-play markers. “That kind of gave Skins more room on the half wall to make some plays, and he did that.”
The Hurricanes ended up going 3-for-6 on the power play, marking the first time they’ve scored three in the same game since a road win over Atlanta on Jan. 21 of this year.
With Staal earning one more point than Skinner in this contest, the two are now tied for the team scoring lead. Skinner extended his lead in the NHL’s rookie race to seven points over a host of players, including Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle. He has nine more than the Oilers’ Taylor Hall, who was taken ahead of him in this past summer’s draft and played just two shifts in the third period.
“We go back and look at the points he’s put up, and there haven’t been a lot of gifts and there hasn’t been a lot of things he didn’t create,” said Maurice of Skinner. “This guy is a great player.”
“He’s going to be a big part of this organization for a long time,” said Staal.
Despite their early lead, the Canes did not run into the third-period lapse that plagued them against the Islanders and prompted Maurice to call a timeout to reinforce some finer points regarding hustle. Except for an Oilers goal by Dustin Penner that spoiled Cam Ward’s shutout bid and a hooking penalty by Sutter, his first infraction since Dec. 18, 2009, the Canes had few regrets from this game other than the fact that they may have actually been able to score more.
“I liked our work ethic in the game,” said Maurice. “I didn’t think it fell off. (The Oilers) got a little better at times, but we were pretty disciplined in how we played.”
After being hauled down from behind on a shorthanded breakaway, Tom Kostopoulus was unfortunate to miss a penalty shot on Devan Dubnyk, who replaced Khabibulin after the Hurricanes’ fourth goal. He later missed a chance in the third period that came with a mostly empty net, which would have been his first goal of the season.
“Everybody’s just absolutely pulling for him to put one in because he’s earned it,” said Maurice, who praised Kostopoulos' defense and shot blocking. “He’s saving them for the big, tight games, I guess.”
In all seriousness, the Canes did just fine without any extra offense, with Sergei Samsonov scoring early in the third period on a spinning backhand to make the score 6-0 and extend his points streak to four games, with Skinner adding the finishing touches on a redirection to answer Penner’s consolation goal.
The Canes will play their third consecutive home game on Thursday against the Philadelphia Flyers, in which they’ll try to avoid the letdown they experienced after their most recent seven-goal effort last week. Two days after that Islanders game, Carolina conceded seven in the front half of a home-and-home series with the Panthers.
“There is something to mentally hitting that reset button and not thinking the game is going to be played any easier because you scored a bunch,” said Maurice. “It’s something that we’re learning, but boy, that’s a lot more fun to learn about that kind of adversity than the other kind.”