Jeff Skinner has found himself in this situation more frequently since returning from a concussion January 15. (Photo by Jamie Kellner)
Since returning from a concussion on January 15 against the Washington Capitals, Jeff Skinner has been a different player. Unfortunately for the Carolina Hurricanes, that characterization means that he is spending way more time in the penalty box, and his temper has gotten the better of him more than a few times. What's going on with Carolina's star winger?
Skinner played in 30 games before suffering the concussion on December 7 in Edmonton. In those games, he took 18 penalty minutes, none of them majors or misconducts. Of the penalties, four were "aggressive penalties" (roughing, cross-checking, slashing, etc.) and five were stick or obstruction penalties (hooking, holding, interference, and so on).
After the concussion, Skinner has suddenly turned into a latter-day Bobby Clarke. He's nearly doubled his penalty minutes, with 34 including six in Wednesday's game against Florida, and of the 13 penalties he's taken all but three have been aggression penalties. Not included in that tally is his kick on St. Louis' Scott Nichol last Thursday, which earned him a two-game suspension, or the slewfoot the week before against Washington that earned him a warning from league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, neither of which were penalized.
Jeff Skinner's Penalties, 2011-12
By comparison to his rookie year, Skinner has 52 penalty minutes in 56 games, whereas in 2010-11 he played all 82 games and recorded 46 penalty minutes.
Skinner's temper problems have been well-documented this season. In his second season in the league, teams are targeting him relentlessly, and his anger is boiling over at times, earning him a reputation around the league as a player whose skin teams can easily get under and whose game can be disrupted, either by getting in his head or physically taking him off the ice and into the penalty box.
Smart teams are doing what St. Louis tried to do last week. It's not exactly breaking news that the Canes are a less dangerous team with Skinner off the ice, so they're going after him to weaken the Canes' forward ranks, even if only for a couple of minutes. The tradeoff of going to a four-on-four is perfectly acceptable to the Canes' opponents if the cost to them is no more than a third-pairing defenseman or bottom-six forward, neither of which Skinner is.
Skinner has to be careful. Not only is he one of the most indispensable players on the Hurricanes' roster, but as the likes of Alexander Burmistrov and Alexander Semin will attest, once you have a reputation as a player who is easily flustered, it's not easy at all to shake that label.
To avoid falling into that category, Skinner will need to learn to keep his temper under control. With as much as he's done in his first two years in the league, it's easy to forget that he hasn't yet turned 20 years old and still has plenty of room to grow. It's up to him and to the coaching staff to ensure that he uses this season as a learning experience and realizes that he does no one on his team any good when he's parked in the penalty box.