Jeff Skinner seemed to be in the middle of everything Friday in the Carolina Hurricanes’ 5-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at PNC Arena.
Whether setting up Derek Ryan for a goal, tangling with Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen around the net, giving his opinion to the referees or being a part of a big push in the final minutes of regulation, Skinner often was front and center. Vocal, engaged.
More importantly for the Canes, 21 games into the season, Skinner might have found the right line to be the most effective.
Canes coach Bill Peters has a found a lot of success – and winger Sebastian Aho starting finding the net – in using Aho and Teuvo Teravainen on a line with center Jordan Staal. The “TSA” line, it has been called.
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Skinner, after scoring a career-high 37 goals last season, has gone through so many line permutations it’s hard to keep up with them. Ryan has been his centerman much of the season and Skinner also has had Victor Rask and more recently Elias Lindholm in the middle.
But there has been a growing list of wingers on the right side – Justin Williams, Brock McGinn, Josh Jooris, Phil Di Giuseppe, Lindholm. In the first three games of the season, Skinner played with Ryan and Janne Kuokkanen, a rookie.
If Skinner has any complaints, he keeps them to himself.
“It’s something I don’t really worry too much about because it’s not in my control,” he said. “I can control how I play. That’s not always quite as well as I’d like to, so that’s my No. 1 focus.
“When you’ve got guys sticking together it’s because they’re playing well and they’re producing or you’re getting results. I’m not sure which comes first, the chicken or the egg.”
On Friday, Canes coach Bill Peters had Skinner and Williams back together, with Ryan in the middle. Williams and Ryan each had five shots and Skinner three, and Skinner and Williams both had two assists.
Then there was the disagreements about Andersen. In the second period, with the Canes buzzing around the net, the Leafs goal suddenly became dislodged and play was stopped. It was hard to say if Andersen or another Leafs player were responsible but no penalty was called despite Skinner’s protestations.
It was a more dicey situation in the third. Trailing 4-1, the Canes picked up a goal from Staal, but Skinner was called for goaltender interference 47 seconds after Staal’s goal.
Relays indicated Andersen was outside the crease and initiated the contact with Skinner. But Skinner went to the penalty box and Patrick Marleau scored what would be the deciding goal for the Maple Leafs.
“Those moments happen,” Skinner said. “There’s a lot of moments like that in a game and obviously that one gets a little more magnified, given the circumstances.”
Skinner called it a tough loss, and that it was for Carolina (9-8-4). But the line of Skinner, Ryan and Williams might be one answer moving forward.
Peters had hoped to have Skinner with Ryan and Lee Stempniak this season, but Stempniak has yet to play a game because of an unspecified upper-body injury. With Stempniak out, Williams appeared to be the best option at right wing and Peters has had the line together before this season, including the Canes’ 6-3 win in Toronto on Oct. 26.
“It shouldn’t be very hard but at the same time it’s nice having continuity and familiarity and knowing what your centerman’s tendencies are,” Williams said. “But that only comes with winning consistently – the same lines. Hopefully we can do that.”
Skinner played with Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu in his first NHL game in October 2010, and maybe he’s not a hard winger to slot. Whoever he plays with, he keeps scoring goals.
“It’s a long season and things are going to change,” Skinner said. “You’ve got to be able to adapt and communicate with your linemates and try and find that success and get on a roll.”