The Carolina Hurricanes had scored just four total goals in three outings against Chris Mason and the Winnipeg Jets this season, but it took the Canes less than 10 minutes to notch two goals against their Southeast division foe Monday. Those two goals were enough as Carolina held off the Jets to win 2-1 in their final game before the All-Star break. Jeff Skinner and Tim Brent scored, while Cam Ward continued his hot play by stopping 29 shots. He is 8-3-3 since Dec. 23.
The Hurricanes improved to 18-24-9 and their 45 points leapfrogged them into a tie for 11th in the Eastern Conference — as well as eight points out of eighth place and nine out of the division lead — with a league-high 51 games played.
1. I'd like to think I'll admit when I was wrong. I was wrong about Jay Harrison being a legitimate NHL defenseman, and it looks like I may have been wrong about Jeff Skinner playing center in the NHL. Carolina's sophomore sensation has now scored in back-to-back games while playing in the middle, but more impressively he has held his own defensively. The Canes aren't using him much in the faceoff circle yet — he took just four draws Monday, winning one — but the huge improvements made by Eric Staal in that facet of the game makes Skinner's inexperience in that area not as pressing a matter. Moving Skinner to the middle means Jussi Jokinen can play left wing, where he's most comfortable, and opens up the options for Staal's wings on the top line. Skinner's long-term future may still be at right wing, but for now he's doing just fine in the middle.
2. With the All-Star break upon us, Carolina coach Kirk Muller will finally get a chance to sit back and reflect on his new job. One thing that is clear early in Muller's tenure: the rookie coach is willing to give his young players a chance to make an impact and doesn't bury them for making mistakes. But one face that has been absent is Zach Boychuk. Five forwards have been recalled from Charlotte since Muller took over (Drayson Bowman, Zac Dalpe, Riley Nash, Jerome Samson and Brett Sutter), but Boychuk is yet to get the call. It's safe to say Boychuk's career is reaching a pivotal point: he has been bypassed by several prospects over the past couple years and next season will have to clear waivers to be recalled. Boychuk needs to show Checkers coach Jeff Daniels that he is worthy of his endorsement to be recalled, and then he needs to make an impact in Raleigh if he is to remain in the Hurricanes' future plans.
3. Tim Brent's game-winning goal was his sixth tally of the season, just two shy of the career-high eight he had last season in Toronto. But more impressive is the fact that Brent has scored those goals on just 28 shots, good for a team-high 21.4 shooting percentage. A Carolina player has never spent the majority of the season with the team and finished above 20 percent, and best that I can tell it hasn't been done by a player in franchise history since 1992-93 when Terry Yake scored 22 goals in 66 games. Yake accomplished it with just 98 shots, a 22.4 percent shooting percentage.
Number To Know
17 — Goals allowed by Cam Ward in 10 games this month. With 335 shots faced, Ward has a .949 save percentage in January (with one game left on the schedule) and boasts a 1.67 goals-against average. Furthermore, he has not allowed two goals in a period since Jan. 3 against the Islanders. His record may not be jaw-dropping (5-2-3), but he has been Carolina's best player this month.
Justin Faulk — The tandem of Faulk and Jay Harrison has become as defensively reliable as the pairing of Tim Gleason and Bryan Allen. Faulk's confidence continues to grow, leading to him being more decisive and more physical. He definitely won "hit of the night" with his punishing against-the-boards check of Alexander Burmistrov in the third period, and he was tied for the team-lead with four. Throw in that Faulk — and Harrison, for that matter — is an all-situations blueliner, and Carolina has a lot to look forward to with a player who is just 35 games into his NHL career. Next up: serving as the Canes' one representative at the All-Star Weekend in Ottawa.
Chad LaRose — LaRose earns the minus simply for having bad luck. In just his second game back after suffering an injury in practice, LaRose went down again after being cut by a skate. It looks like LaRose's injury is not serious — the team said he would be out a week to 10 days — and that he could be back immediately after the All-Star break, but LaRose will again have to work back to game condition.