The Carolina Hurricanes have been on a roll with at least in a point in nine straight games, and a few players have been riding the wave with streaks of their own. Most notably, Elias Lindholm is maintaining a nine-game streak of his own, while Jeff Skinner has scored nine goals in that span.
The latter added two to his total against the Panthers, with his second of the game coming from some great work done by linemate Derek Ryan.
It may seem like just another goal—especially when compared to some of Skinner’s highlight reel tallies—but the intricacies of the play are worth a second look.
Ryan’s contributions began early, blocking a Michael Matheson shot from the point. It’s a bit of a risky play—Ryan’s block attempt came about 4 feet in front of Cam Ward, and was highly susceptible to a deflection if the puck caught the wrong part of his shin pad.
Luckily, Ryan manages to keep the puck contained and gains possession to the left of the goal. Spotting Lee Stempniak as a breakout option, he looks to throw it up the boards.
But, since Stempniak is well covered by Alex Petrovic on the blue line, his only option upon reception is to continue the pass along the boards. But this is where the smarts of Skinner come in.
As the far-side winger on this breakout play, his responsibility is to come off the wall and towards center ice to fill in as a passing option, or to retrieve a chip play in the neutral zone. If he fails to do so and just goes straight ahead, Stempniak’s chip becomes a turnover and it’s back to square one.
Matheson, to his credit, recovered well after having his shot blocked and kept up with Skinner enough to poke the puck off his stick along the wall. And if you look in the frame above, Petrovic is available as support with no other Hurricanes in sight.
Enter Derek Ryan, again. Carolina’s #33 closes the gap on Petrovic in their race to the loose puck.
When Ryan takes possession of the puck, he’s not exactly in an ideal situation. His lone passing option does not have a clear lane, and his team is outnumbered 2-to-1 in the zone.
Pretty much the only thing to do in that situation is to skate your way out of it, and Ryan does just that. But while he has more room to work now, Skinner is still covered by Derek MacKenzie (and Matheson, by virtue of just being in the way).
Matheson recognizes Ryan’s intention to pass and goes down to block. Ryan could try the low-percentage saucer over the back of Matheson, or he could continue around the net and wait for more support from trailing players.
But at this moment, Skinner makes the play with a subtle move to shake MacKenzie. He just stops. You can see his feet angled in the frame above, while the puck-watching MacKenzie continues going towards his own net.
With separation from MacKenzie, Skinner is once again a passing option. Ryan, quick to recognize the new option, threads a pass carefully through, avoiding both Matheson’s block attempt and the poke-check from Reto Berra.
Another important aspect of this play is Skinner’s readiness to shoot. When he’s this close to the net, there’s no time to think with the puck on his stick. He’s got his mind made up before the puck gets to him, and wastes no time getting his shot away. Another split-second of decision-making would have given MacKenzie time to swipe the puck away or Berra a moment to slide across the crease.
The Panthers were, uh, not pleased with the outcome.
With Skinner (and others) firing at the clip that he is, it’s no wonder the Hurricanes have found their way up the standings to a sliver of playoff hope. And on a personal level, Skinner is now just one goal shy of reaching 30 in one season for the 3rd time in his career. Playoffs or no playoffs, Skinner and the Hurricanes are making the end of this season exciting to the finish.