Tuomo Ruutu has found a comfort level in Kirk Muller's system, scoring goals in four straight while he rides a six-game point streak. (Photo by Jamie Kellner)
The Carolina Hurricanes came out of the holiday break with a win Monday over the New Jersey Devils, 4-2, but looked like a team with tired legs Tuesday, falling to Pittsburgh by the same score. Tuomo Ruutu scored both nights, pushing his goal-scoring streak to four games and his point streak to six, and Cam Ward was credited with a rare goaltender goal on an odd empty-net play in the Devils game.
The split puts Carolina's record at 12-20-6 for 30 points, ranking 14th in the Eastern Conference and 27th in the NHL.
1. Ruutu's great play of late has him first on the Canes in goals with 14 (tied for 22nd in the NHL) and tied for second with Jussi Jokinen in points with 22. He is thriving in coach Kirk Muller's system and has been Carolina's best player of late. So the question is what to do with Ruutu, an impending unrestricted free agent, in the long term? He's an obvious fan favorite and is entering the prime of his career (he will be 29 on Feb. 16), but with Carolina already a long shot for the postseason, the return for him at the deadline could be immense. Looking down the list of 2012 UFAs, Ruutu stands out as the best player available among the teams looking like probable sellers. Based on past deadline trades, the Canes would likely land a first-round pick plus more to part with Ruutu, who they could then try to re-sign, if they wish, in the offseason. Either way, they are at risk of losing Ruutu for the 2012-13 season and beyond, so cashing in on his value probably makes the most sense.
2. Justin Peters return to the Carolina nets was an impressive one when looking at the numbers. He stopped 48 of 52 shots and kept the Hurricanes in the game through two periods. But the issues that made the acquisition of Brian Boucher a necessity this offseason were evident again as Peters gave up rebounds on the majority of the shots he faced. One can't fault Peters for the loss to Pittsburgh, but his ability to absorb shots or direct shots out of harm's way was missing Tuesday. Peters did a good job of simplifying his game and focusing on stopping the puck, but on most nights in the NHL that number of rebounds will start to end up in your net.
3. Carolina's power play now ranks last in the NHL at a woeful 12.4 percent. It had shown signs of life under Muller, but clearly the prolonged absences of Jeff Skinner and Joni Pitkanen have hurt the Canes with the man advantage. The main culprit, however, is Eric Staal, who has just five power play points this year after averaging 29.5 in the six previous post-lockout seasons and never registering less than 23 points in that time frame. Yes, Skinner and Pitkanen would help, but at the end of the day Muller needs Staal to start scoring with the man advantage.
Number To Know
15 — Players with one career goal with the Hurricanes, a list that Ward joined after he was credited with one when New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk scored an own goal with the Devils net empty late in Monday's 4-2 Carolina win. Some other notables with one career goal with the Canes: current teammates Jaroslav Spacek and Justin Faulk; 10-game flameouts Patrick O`Sullivan and Anson Carter; and Brad Fast and Damien Surma, who scored in just one and two games, respectively, with the Canes — the only NHL action they have seen.
Brandon Sutter — Sutter did his part on back-to-back nights, scoring a shorthanded goal against the Devils and doing his best to keep Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin-James Neal-Chris Kunitz line in check Tuesday. The trio finished with a combined five points and 18 shots, but other than allowing Malkin's cross-ice feed on Steve Sullivan's go-ahead power play goal, Sutter was able to keep the Pens' big line on the periphery and out of the danger zones most of the night.
Eric Staal — The Carolina captain was kept off the score sheet and managed just three shots in the two games, making it five games he has not registered a point. Starting with a goal on Nov. 27, Staal had registered 10 points in eight games. But he has since been shut down as Muller has been unable to get his best player going with various linemates. He also finished both games below 50 percent on faceoffs, the one aspect of his game this season that has been greatly improved.