Game Analysis: Back To Back At Islanders, Vs. Predators

Brett Sutter celebrates his first goal with the Hurricanes Saturday against Long Island. Sutter was credited the game-winner, and Carolina’s other recent AHL call-ups helped lead the team to two wins in two nights. - Bruce Bennett

The Carolina Hurricanes seized a big opportunity this weekend, winning both games of a back-to-back set on Long Island and at home against Nashville to push their win streak to four games. The Canes are now 18-16-9 with 45 points, one behind Washington for the third place in the Metropolitan Division and two behind Toronto for the Eastern Conference’s final wild card spot.

Jeff Skinner pushed his point streak to five games in Carolina’s back-to-back wins, and Anton Khudobin got both victories to keep his perfect record this season and thrust the Hurricanes back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture with 3-2 and 2-1 wins over the Islanders and Predators, respectively.

Three Observations

1. The Hurricanes continue to get help from their depth players. First it was Justin Peters holding down the fort in net with Cam Ward and Khudobin injured, and this past week they have gotten bottom six contributions from call-ups Zach Boychuk, Brett Sutter and Aaron Palushaj. That allowed Carolina to win on back-to-back nights despite playing most of Saturday’s game and all of Sunday’s without Eric Staal, giving coach Kirk Muller the option of rolling four lines despite having a lineup littered with recalled players.

2. Even without their normal center, the top line of Alexander Semin and Skinner kept producing. Sutter got his first goal with the Hurricanes when centering Skinner and Semin on Long Island, collecting a Skinner rebound for the eventual game-winning goal. Then Sunday Skinner moved to the middle and the line scored both Carolina goals in limited minutes (Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu, who joined the duo on the top line, played less than 14 minutes, while Semin played 15:41).

3. Carolina ranks last in the NHL in fighting majors with just four this season, one less than the Detroit Red Wings. It's been more than a month since Jay Harrison and Vancouver’s Tom Sestito faced off on Dec. 1, 2013. Those 16 games without a fight matches the longest stretch since the team moved to Raleigh, the last time being in late 2005. On Nov. 19, 2005, Jesse Boulerice squared off with the Rangers’ Jason Strudwick, and the Canes wouldn't have another first until Dec. 28, 2005, when Chad LaRose fought Ottawa’s Chris Kelly after LaRose boarded future teammate Patrick Eaves.

Number To Know

8 — points for Semin in his past seven games. Semin is quietly returning to his 2012-13 form after a slow start that saw him register just nine points in 20 games in October and November.

Plus

Anton Khudobin — With Ward hurt again, Khudobin has been Muller’s go-to guy in net. It's worked. Khudobin won his first start in more than two and a half months earlier in the week, then won both games on back-to-back night this weekend. He stopped 69 of 72 shots and allowed just one even-strength goal in Carolina’s two wins, improving to 5-0 on the season with a .940 save percentage and 1.99 goals-against average.

Minus

Ryan Murphy — With Jay Harrison close to returning to the lineup, Murphy might find himself back in the press box. He and John-Michael Liles — easily Carolina’s two smallest defensemen — were paired together and seemed overwhelmed at times in their own end. The worst for Murphy came at the end Sunday’s game when he took an interference penalty with Carolina on the power play, nullifying Carolina’s chance to put the game away and breathing life into the Preds, who scored on the ensuing power play to get within one goal.

Skinner Earns NHL First Star Honor Again

For the second time in a month, Jeff Skinner was named the NHL's First Star of the week. Skinner had nine points, including six goals, to lead Carolina to four wins. Here is the release from the team.

JEFF SKINNER NAMED NHL FIRST STAR OF THE WEEK
Winger netted six goals as Carolina won four consecutive games

RALEIGH, NC – The National Hockey League today announced that Hurricanes winger Jeff Skinner has been named the league’s First Star for the week ending Jan. 5. It marks the second time Skinner has earned the honor in less than a month, as he was also named First Star for the week ending Dec. 8.

Skinner, 21, scored six goals and earned three assists (9 points) in four games as Carolina earned victories against the Montreal Canadiens, Washington Capitals, New York Islanders and Nashville Predators. The Markham, Ont, native had two goals and an assist as the Hurricanes came from three goals down in the third period to beat the Canadiens on New Year’s Eve. Skinner followed that up with his second hat trick of the season, including the overtime, game-winning goal at Washington on Thursday. After earning the primary assist on Brett Sutter’s game-winner against the Islanders Saturday, Skinner had his third multi-point effort with the game-winning goal and an assist against Nashville on Sunday night. Skinner leads Carolina and ranks tied for ninth in the NHL in goals (20) and game-winning goals (4) this season despite missing 11 games due to injury.

Selected by the Hurricanes in the first round, seventh overall, of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Skinner (5’11", 200 lbs.) has totaled 84 goals and 80 assists (164 points) in 220 career NHL games. He appeared in the 2011 NHL All-Star Game, and won the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year in 2010-11.

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