Line change helps Staal break out just in time for Canes
Posted April 27, 2009
Before Sunday night, one thing was clear about the Carolina Hurricanes - in order for them to advance deep into the playoffs, they were going to need bigger contributions from the team’s best players than they had been getting in the postseason’s first five games.
Sure, offensive assistance from players like Jussi Jokinen (two goals and one assist) and Ryan Bayda (two goals) is great, and very valuable, but only if it’s a complement to the scoring from the team’s top lines, not a replacement for it.
That notion brings us to one of the biggest moves Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice has made during his team’s series – the shifting of Eric Staal off of his normal line with Tuomo Ruutu and Erik Cole, and onto one where he is flanked by Chad LaRose and Ray Whitney.
It’s a risky move, messing with the placement of the Canes’ franchise player, but it sparked what had been a mostly quiet Staal just when the team needed him most.
After registering just two goals and no assists in his team’s first five games against New Jersey, Staal racked up two goals and a helper in Sunday night’s 4-0 game six win alone.
An on-point Staal creates headaches for other teams, not just because of his tremendous scoring ability, but also because of his capacity for making plays for those around him.
Linemate Ray Whitney, who scored twice as many points Sunday night (four) as he had in the entire Devils series up that juncture when he wasn’t on the ice with Staal (two), was one of the closest witnesses to the difference number 12 can make when he’s on his game.
“It was good playing with him,” Whitney said. “The biggest thing is your best player, getting him going – when he’s going, he can win you a series. Tonight he got us to that next step and hopefully on Tuesday, not to put too much pressure on him, we hope he’ll continue to go on.”
It’s no coincidence that Carolina’s best game of the 2009 playoffs came on a night when its superstar was at his postseason best.
Now, Caniacs need to hope that the 6-foot-4 center is here to stay – otherwise their team could be headed for the offseason in less than 48 hours.
As for whether Maurice, the man behind the plan, would dare mess with the good thing the new line had going in game six, let’s just say he’s going with the “if it aint broke, don’t fix it policy.”
“You never know, there may be some road adjustments,” Maurice said with a smirk as the media broke out in laughter. “How long would I last on the bench? There’d be Hurricanes fans stringing me up. We were pretty happy with the way the lines played tonight, so I don’t think you’ll see too many adjustments.”