Patrick Dwyer, right, has played well in all three zones, earning him more ice time and the attention of Hurricanes fans. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
For the first time in 2010-11, the Carolina Hurricanes are a below-.500 team. Monday's loss to Philadelphia dropped the Canes to 5-6 on the season but also ended a brutal 11-game stretch that included nine games away from the RBC Center and eight games against playoff teams from last season. The schedule is kinder in the next four games: two games vs. Florida and matchups against the Islanders and Oilers over the next week.
Here are five observations from Monday's loss to the Flyers.
1. One could make an argument that Patrick Dwyer has been Carolina's most productive player so far this season. The 27-year-old forward, who potted his second breakaway goal of the season against Philly, is tied for the team lead in goals with three and has been a valuable energy player and penalty killer all season. Most impressively, he's been able to do it at wing or center, as a fourth-line grinder or top-nine forward.
2. Eric Staal's goal drought reached five games Monday, but it's not for lack of effort or opportunity. There are two main factors for the captain's mini-scoring slump: a) The bounces have not gone Staal's way, having been robbed several times by the opposing goalie or an unkind post; and b) His linemates have been unable to contribute offensively. Jussi Jokinen has now gone four games without a point and, unlike Staal, it hasn't been bad luck. The Finn has managed just seven shots in those four games and is a minus player in all of them. His minus-8 rating ranks last on the team, and he looks nothing like the player that was so good in 2009-10. Chad LaRose, Staal's other winger, has brought his usual hustle but hasn't had the breaks that resulted in him producing points early in the year. He's gone five games without a point and is also a minus player in all of those outings. For Staal to be productive, he needs to get some kind of help on the top line. Right now, coach Paul Maurice’s decision to keep the three together is hurting the Canes on the score sheet.
3. Even before scoring his first goal of the season late against the Flyers, Joe Corvo was clearly showing signs of rounding into form. The veteran defenseman has been a rock in his own end, and his confidence in the offensive zone seems to growing every shift. It couldn't come at a better time, with minute-munching blueliner Joni Pitkanen leaving Monday's game and not returning. If Pitkanen misses any more time, Corvo will be leaned on even more heavily.
4. There are nights when Sergei Samsonov's ability to dangle and curl with the puck in the offensive zone is a huge advantage. But as Hurricanes observers have learned over the past four seasons, there are nights when No. 14 is too cutesy with the puck and his efforts result in few chances and often turnovers. Last night was an example of the latter. Maurice’s conundrum right now is that he has two similar players in Samsonov and Patrick O`Sullivan but neither has seized control of a spot in the lineup. Samsonov has received prime power play time along with about 10 minutes of even-strength ice, while O`Sullivan’s minutes have been limited — particularly when you compare the 3:32-to-1:39 per game difference in PP time. It's time to give O`Sullivan the same chance at Samsonov and see if he can run with it.
5. Jay Harrison has emerged as an exactly-what-the-doctor-ordered supplement to Tim Gleason. Harrison is perfectly filling the No. 6 defenseman role, playing just under 13 minutes a night while bringing a physical edge to the blue line. He's also blocking shots and has been a willing fighter — all things that the Canes needed from their bottom pairing. Harrison will rarely show up on the score sheet — he's the only Hurricane to play in all 11 games and not register a point — but Carolina has its fair share of offensive-minded players on the back end. For now, Harrison is proving that he belongs in the NHL as an everyday player.