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November 5, 2013

DeCock: Despite win, Hurricanes’ big guns still sputtering

The Hurricanes are paying Eric and Jordan Staal, Alexander Semin, Tuomo Ruutu and Jiri Tlusty a combined $27.6 million. Even after Jordan Staal’s goal in Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime win the Flyers, they have scored a total of 10 goals in 15 games.

Finally, with less than a minute to spare before what would have been the Carolina Hurricanes’ sixth straight loss, one of their big guns scored a big goal. Jordan Staal’s extra-attacker goal was the Hurricanes’ first even-strength goal, technically, in more than 256 minutes of action and only his second of the season. It was enough to force overtime, where Manny Malhotra finished a breakaway he started for a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, forcing the puck loose with a center-ice hit.

“It was nice, no question,” Staal said. “Our team scoring obviously hasn’t been up there, including me, so it was nice to get a big goal to help win the game.”

The losing streak is over, but the Hurricanes need this to be the start of something. Not only for Jordan Staal but Eric Staal and Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty and Tuomo Ruutu, who have scored a total of 10 goals this season – one during the five-game skid – while taking up a combined $27.6million of a $65.9million payroll.

Eric Staal has three goals. Semin has three. Tlusty has two. Ruutu has none. They’re being paid to deliver far more – they’re being paid to finish – and the Hurricanes can’t be successful without them, especially with Jeff Skinner out injured.

The injuries to goaltenders Anton Khudobin and Cam Ward were killers, but it doesn’t matter who’s in net if no one is scoring. Tuesday, there was no pointing the finger at Justin Peters, who stopped the first 28 shots he faced, and the Hurricanes delivered the energy coach Kirk Muller wanted, but it didn’t have to come down to the last minute.

Semin had a wide-open chance in the slot on the power play in the first. He shot wide. Nate Gerbe set up Jordan Staal on the doorstep on a short-handed two-on-one, but Steve Mason got across to make the save. And the Hurricanes had 62 seconds of two-man advantage on either side of the second intermission and couldn’t score.

Mason played quite well, but the Hurricanes need Semin and Jordan Staal to finish those chances. At least those two had some – Eric Staal, Tlusty and Ruutu didn’t have any of note, although Ruutu’s first period might have been his best 20 minutes in two seasons, clearing a low bar.

The Staal brothers have to be the Canes’ hardest-working players, driving the team forward whether they score or not, but they’re too often indistinguishable from their teammates. Semin can’t do his own thing, going one-on-one and turning the puck over, when the puck isn’t going in for him.

But the Canes came away with two points, even if they left it to the very end, and the fact that Jordan Staal was the one who saved the day might have been as positive a development as the win itself.

“Jordan with the big goal, that gets the monkey off his back,” Muller said. “Maybe now he’ll go on a roll. Sometimes that’s how it works.”

Tuesday was a step in the right direction for a team that was headed the wrong way, but there’s still a long way to go. Peters’ performance will build the team’s confidence in him as well as his own, but it doesn’t matter how many goals he gives up if the Hurricanes’ highly paid stars continue to have this much trouble scoring some of their own.

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