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If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
That’s the approach the Hurricanes are taking with their new-look lines, which will remain intact at least through Thursday’s game in Tampa Bay.
The big change was moving Erik Cole over to Rod Brind’Amour and Ray Whitney’s line with Justin Williams going the other way to Eric Staal and Cory Stillman’s unit. Whether it was the new dynamics or just the mental shake-up that went with the personnel tinkering, it was certainly effective in the 4-0 win over the New York Rangers Monday night.
”It brings a little bit of a different energy,” said Cole. “You have to try to help the other two guys and you’re just going out and playing again rather than thinking too much and maybe over-passing the puck or trying to look for too many pretty plays. You just go out and let it fly, and it seems that when you do that, the nice plays and the plays that you end up seeing on the highlights are there.”
Health permitting, the two most frequent combinations on the Carolina roster over the last few years were Staal-Cole and Brind’Amour-Williams. While those have been broken up for the time being, neither of the displaced players seems too concerned.
“It’s a little demotion,” joked Williams, knowingly within earshot of Staal, his new center. “I’ve played about 98 percent of my shifts with Roddy since I’ve been here, but it’s just different styles and different patterns. Staal is more of a crash-and-bang, slapping-rebounds hard-nosed guy, whereas with Roddy we worked a little more give-and-gos and were more positional. Both guys make plays all the time, and as a linemate, that’s what you want.”
The Hurricanes offense began the year as the best in the league but had slowed in recent weeks, losing top honors to the Detroit Red Wings. The 8-1 loss in Buffalo that preceded the Rangers game convinced coach Peter Laviolette that adjustments were needed.
”It was such a large gap in the score and just a time to turn the page and look at something new maybe,” he said. “That’s not to say it’s permanent, but it’s for now just to give it a shake-up and a different look. I thought guys played hard, it seems like the changes helped the lines, but it’s just one game and we have to follow it with more than that.”
As is the norm for all but the most successful and injury-resistant lines in hockey, however, changes will occur often throughout the course of the long 82-game season.
“I guess it depends on how you’re doing as a team,” said Laviolette. “I don’t want to come out and say they’re going to stay like this forever and then not have the success we’re looking for and go back.”
At least for Thursday’s game, the new groupings will give familiar foe Tampa Bay something a little different to think about this time around. The Canes finally broke through against the Lightning with a come-from-behind win at the RBC Center three weeks ago after losing the first two match-ups convincingly.
That Carolina win ended up being the third in a six-game winless streak for the enigmatic Lightning, who won five in a row before that and have won two in a row since, most recently over the suddenly-slumping Senators in a shootout.
The Hurricanes currently hold a seven-point lead in the Southeast Division.
Injury NotesDefenseman Mike Commodore says his broken finger is feeling better, but shooting and making hard passes are still a painful undertaking. Don’t expect him back Thursday.
Niclas Wallin practiced Wednesday in a no-contact jersey after suffering a contusion on the same shoulder he recently had surgery on. According to Wallin, the problem is not related to his surgery, but is a result of being hit hard in the same sore spot three games in a row.
”It’s easy to say that I came back too early, but I could have gotten hit on my other shoulder and gotten a contusion too,” he said. “It’s frustrating, because I was getting better.”
Wallin says the swelling has gone down, but he’s doubtful for Thursday’s game. He will make the trip with the team and hopes to play against Montreal and Detroit on the weekend.