Team Canada is set to name their roster for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi on Tuesday morning. Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes might be the hottest Canadian player in the NHL over the last five weeks and hopes to hear his name called. Skinner has earned 22 points (16 G, 6 A) over his last 16 games. The last two points came as the game winner against the Nashville Predators on Sunday night.
With Carolina captain Eric Staal sidelined with a lower body injury, head coach Kirk Muller asked Skinner to step into the first line center role. While his face off percentage might not have been equivalent to what Staal brings to the line up, his play in the offensive zone did. The scoring opened in the first period with a Skinner assist to line mate Alexander Semin, who somehow wedged the puck in from behind the net off the back of Nashville goalie Carter Hutton.
Carolina was content to play the Smashville style for the entire first two periods and was outshot by the Predators 23 to 19 over the first 40 minutes. Coming out of the second period intermission, Carolina’s hectic schedule (six games in 10 nights) seemed to slow the Hurricanes down. Nashville took advantage on a power play and right winger Patric Hornqvist kicked — sorry, deflected — the puck off his skate past Carolina goalie Anton Khudobin.
Khudobin in only his third game back from an ankle injury that placed him on IR in October has been perfect on the season. The Russian netminder moves his record to 5-0 with a 1.99 GA average and save percentage of .940. Granted, this is a small sample size, but the confidence he has shown over the last couple of nights proved to the Carolina coaches that they should stick with his hot hand and start Khudobin over Justin Peters, who had tallied a win against the Predators in Nashville on Dec. 5.
Like this Carolina team has done all season, they kept fighting, and when Carolina forward Tuomo Ruutu centered a pass to Skinner with 3:31 left in the game, he was able to bury it 5-hole on Carter Hutton. Canes win, Canes win, Jeff Skinner game winner! Did you hear that coach Babcock?
Carolina heads to Buffalo on Tuesday to take on the struggling Sabres before coming back home to welcome the Toronto Maple Leafs into Raleigh for the first time this season.