Carolina Hurricanes’ Top Line Plus/Minus Issues Not Easy To Solve

Tom Szczerbowski – USA Today Sports

For all their issues in other parts of the game, the Carolina Hurricanes’ most immediate need is goals. It’s one of the most insultingly obvious things to point out. If you’re not scoring goals, you can’t win hockey games.

After Sunday’s sick joke of a loss against the Toronto Maple Leafssomething interesting shows up in the stats sheet– pointing to a difficult problem without an easy or specific solution. The top line is one big statistical anomaly.

Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, and Tuomo Ruutu were making up Carolina’s top line. Their stats are quite impressive, with Skinner and Staal first and second in team goals, respectively. Both of them also lead overall points, just in reverse order. Skinner has 14 percent shooting, second on the team. Ruutu has been good for eight points on the season, which is pretty impressive when one adjusts for his time spent on injured reserve. Staal has is 50 percent on the faceoff, having won 382 of the 762 he’s taken this year. These guys are good.

Staal and Ruutu are both skating at a -17. Skinner is a -8.

The plus/minus of the top line is frightening. Staal actually leads the team in team goals-against, having been on the ice for 48 GA this season. Just so you don’t wonder, Ruutu has 31 and Skinner has 26. They’d go one-two-three in that stats column if it wasn’t for Jordan Staal sitting in number two behind his brother with 34.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, the elder Staal is -14 at home.

27 goals-for as a line doesn’t sound too nice when placed next to the 105 goals against they’ve allowed.

To be fair, they haven’t been a line the whole season. Staal had been skating with Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty for a good chunk of time, until it was clear the chemistry was non-existent. Skinner has been up and down the depth chart like a stock report and has had the Midas touch wherever he was. It’s the goals against being allowed by his line-mates and the defense that holds him back from skating in double-digits positive.

So what’s the solution? It’s easy to sit back and point out issues, but more constructive to find solutions. This is easier said than done, however. There’s far too many variables at play. With the Staal-Skinner show being possibly the tip of the spear moving forward — they aren’t the problem.

It’s not the job of either Staal or Skinner to stop goals from being scored. They score them, that’s about it. If they can prevent them — hey, thanks for helping out, boys. Otherwise, it comes down to the defensive pairings to keep things tight on the blue line. Reports Monday morning from the News And Observer have head coach Kirk Muller moving Semin back to the top line with Staal and Skinner. This may be a good move or bad one, but it shows that at least Muller is trying.

The solution isn’t just limited to shuffling forwards, as there’s defensemen on the ice too. Showing Tim Gleason the door and threatening to do the same to Justin Faulk is a good place to start. While Faulk might show up now and then to do activities, he’s become a liability.  His name being in the Olympic conversation has got to be a PR job. Andrej Sekera scoring goals is great, but the entire defensive corps needs to play defense. That’s why they’re not forwards.

Skinner just isn’t a defensive forward. Be okay with that. Staal sometimes is, but shouldn’t be.  Let these boys do their job, and hold down the defensive end — and we’ll see those minuses turn positive well before the Olympic break.

Michael Peckerar is a Hurricanes writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @peckrants, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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