With just four games — all at home — left before the Olympic break, the Carolina Hurricanes aimed to position themselves for a solid stretch run. A win against one of the top teams in the league in the first game of their stay at PNC Arena did just that.
The Canes knocked off the St. Louis Blues, 3-1, Friday to improve to 25-20-9, good for 59 points and third place in the Metropolitan Division.
1. It finally feels like coach Kirk Muller has his lines close to the way he wants them. Yes, it would be nice to have a third line center and slot Manny Malhotra on the fourth line, and Tuomo Ruutu is still buried on the fourth line. But Muller has found some scoring punch to group with Jordan Staal on the second line, putting sniper Jeff Skinner on one side and rookie Elias Lindholm — who is taking monstrous strides every game — on the other. The reunited top line continues to create chances, and bottom six players like Nathan Gerbe, Drayson Bowman and Patrick Dwyer have brought energy every shift.
2. Why was Carolina 10-4 in January? The above line combinations are part of it, but the real reason is between the pipes. Khudobin was in the nets for every game, and the only times Carolina lost was when the team's offense was shut out three times and when Khudobin replaced Justin Peters — who had allowed three goals on seven shots — in a 5-3 loss to Tampa Bay. Khudobin was 10-4 with a .927 save percentage and 2.19 goals-against average. He's also 6-1 this season against the Metro, compared to the Hurricanes’ 5-6-1 record against their division foes with someone else is in net.
3. They say "Old soldiers never die, they fade away." The same could be said for Brendan Morrow, who is not only a shell of the excellent player he once was, but he was one of the Blues’ biggest problems Friday night. Morrow went to the box three times, spending nearly as much time there as he did on the ice (7:43). Throw in a blank box score line (no shots or hits) and you begin to understand why the 35-year-old might be in his final season.
Number To Know
6 — Game-winning goals for Skinner this season — a new career high for the 21-year-old — after he notched another with his power play goal Friday. He is tied for fourth-most in the NHL, and he could make a run at the franchise record of nine set by Erik Cole in 2010-11 and Blaine Stoughton in 1979-80.
Jeff Skinner — Skinner was a threat all night and again came through when Carolina needed him, scoring the eventual game-winner in the second period. He finished with six shots and 10 shot attempts in less than 16 minutes of ice time.
Ron Hainsey — Hainsey was a big part of shutting down the Blues, but it could have been a completely different game had St. Louis capitalized on more of his mistakes. Not only did the Blues tie the score in the second with Hainsey in the box for hooking, but the veteran defenseman twice turned the puck over right in front of Carolina's net, leading to St. Louis scoring chances. Luckily for Hainsey and the Canes, they were unable to convert those chances, and Hainsey settled into his game the rest of the way.