RALEIGH, N.C. — The stars came out Thursday night for the Carolina Hurricanes.
The team made a concerted effort to add more offense last summer. Too often Carolina came up short a season ago, failing to win games when it got quality goaltending and solid play in front of Cam Ward.
So the team went out in the offseason and signed Alexander Semin and traded for Jordan Staal, the younger brother of Canes’ star Eric Staal. The newbies may not have netted any goals on Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres at PNC Arena, but they were active and played crucial roles in the club’s holdover stars having big games in the 6-3 Carolina victory.
Eric Staal netted a hat trick by scoring once in the second period and twice in the final 10:34 of the contest, the latter goal an empty-netter with 1:28 left. It was the 13th hat trick of his career.
Jeff Skinner, who had one of the team’s two goals entering the contest, netted two in a wild second period in which six goals were scored by the teams; four by Carolina.
And second-year defenseman Justin Faulk slapped one in a shorthanded goal in the second period to complete the Canes’ scoring.
“It’s nice because it looks like they’re starting to get their timing and their hands,” Hurricanes’ coach Kirk Muller said about seeing the big guns getting going. “Staalsy and Skins and these guys are going to get those opportunities, so you need to start capitalizing. It was good to see those guys score.”
Eric Staal is a perennial All-Star, Skinner was in his rookie season, and Faulk took part in the All-Star weekend Skills Competition as a rookie last season. Carolina needs its stars to produce. An organization that just can’t go out and toss money around, general manager Jim Rutherford must be frugal and creative in how he builds the team.
That’s why when the Hurricanes spent so much money last summer — they inked Jordan Staal to a 10-year, $60 million deal that begins at the end of this season — some eyebrows were raised around the league and locally.
Anticipation for the season built even during a three-month lockout. So when the team finally hit the ice in Florida last Saturday and lost 5-1 then followed that up with a 4-1 defeat at home Tuesday to the Tampa Bay Lightning, one can only imagine the frustration among everyone with an interest in the organization.
Muller made some line changes after the first game, and even though he said there was no reason to panic following Tuesday’s loss, the second-year coach shifted around the lines again. In the short 48-game season, each loss is essentially like losing two in a row in a normal 82-game slate. And while Muller spoke of positives against the Lightning — Carolina had 36 shots on goal — the team needed to win a game and score while doing so. Eric Staal said it’s all about battling.
“We like to do the things we did in the first two games, but obviously we needed to be a little more aggressive and be more physical one on one with our battles,” Eric Staal said. “We had a good practice and came ready to play tonight.”
Jordan Staal registered a pair of assists on the night and Semin applied pressure with some lasers and even trying to set up the older Staal [Eric] early in the game, only to see the puck bounce off Staal’s stick.
Muller and the coaching staff preached that the team needed to stay the course. Even though he did some redecorating, the approach wasn’t changing. The stars would eventually shine.
“It’s taken a couple of games to play the style that we want,” Muller said. “But it looked like tonight that we’re finally getting into the mix and (learning) how to play that tempo. If we can do that we can wear some teams down and get a 60-minute type team.”
The Hurricanes return the game to Buffalo on Friday night, so the newness of the team will be tested by a club that now has a game of experience against Carolina.
Eight goals in three games isn’t enough of a sample size to come to any conclusion, but the way things played out Thursday, it’s a sign the team badly needed.