Jeff Skinner's effort and willingness to go to scoring areas on the ice is still evident, but his inability to be an offensive contributor of late has contributed in stalling Carolina's offense. (Photo by LTD)
The Carolina Hurricanes allowed their Southeast Division foe to jump out to a two-goal lead before rallying to force a tie and earn a point. But Atlanta's Tim Stapleton scored on a 2-on-1 transition goal to give the Thrashers the win in overtime, 3-2, at the RBC Center. Here are five observations from Wednesday's game.
1. Coach Paul Maurice's new fangled forward lines didn't last long, with Erik Cole jumping off the top line to join Jeff Skinner and Jussi Jokinen, while Tuomo Ruutu went to Eric Staal's wing with Cory Stillman during the game. It appears Maurice is trying anything and everything to get Skinner, the Canes No. 2 scorer, going. Other than an inconsequential goal late in the Chicago loss, Skinner has not scored since Feb. 18 and has just four points in the last eight games. In most circumstances, you could live with your 18-year-old rookie hitting a bit of a wall, but Carolina has relied on Skinner so much to provide extra scoring punch that his slump has triggered an avalanche of offensive problems up and down the lineup. For example, Ruutu has just one point (a goal) in his last nine games.
2. Speaking of scoring slumps, Brandon Sutter has re-entered the goal void. In December and January he went 16 games without scoring, but broke thru with five tallies in his next seven. But he hasn't scored since, a 14-game run without a goal. One can't stress enough how vital Sutter is Carolina's defensive efforts — a fun stat: he still has not been worse than a minus-1 in any game this season — so any scoring he does is truly gravy, but if there's ever been a time when the Canes needed him to step up his offensive production, it's now.
3. When Carolina fell behind 2-0 in the first period, it would not have been difficult to predict that Troy Bodie would be called on to swing the momentum. What was unexpected was that Bodie did it by scoring his first goal as a Hurricane, and not by having to face off against someone like Eric Boulton. It had been almost a year since Bodie last scored — he tallied a shorthanded goal for the Ducks in a 5-2 win over Colorado on March 21, 2010 — but you can bet he'd rather make his impact filling the nets than dropping the gloves.
4. Fellow fourth liner Jerome Samson continues to do the right things, particularly in the offensive zone, but it's hard not to notice why he, like so many elite AHL forwards, is struggling to replicate his minor league success. Samson bobbled one pass in the slot that should have resulted in a prime scoring chance, and overall you can see that he's usually a half second slow with his reaction time. That small moment doesn't hurt you much in the minors, but it's the difference between scoring to not even getting a chance in the NHL. Perhaps breaking through and finally scoring a goal will help Samson, but right not he is showing why it will be tough for him to crack the top nine and be anything more than a grinding fourth liner in the NHL.
5. If Erik Cole doesn't re-sign in Carolina — and his return seems more and more likely every day, given his impact and ties to the area — Thrashers GM Rick Dudley is practically obligated to signing him in Atlanta simply to keep him off the opposing bench. Cole now has four goals in five games against Atlanta this season, and all have been clutch. He has 16 shots on goal against the Thrashers this season, a 3.2 per game average that is only topped by the 14 shots he has in three games vs. Ottawa among opponents the Canes have played more than once. Cole is on pace for 51 points, which would match his total from 2007-08 and make him a four-time 50-point player. That would tie him with Jeff O'Neill and Sami Kapanen and put him behind only Eric Staal (six 50-point seasons), Rod Brind`Amour (six), Ron Francis (five), and Ray Whitney (five) in Hurricanes history.