Last week's roster moves meant that Derek Ryan found himself, nominally, as the Carolina Hurricanes' fourth-line center – which is not how the smallish, skilled Ryan had ever thought of himself as a hockey player, nor what fourth-line centers are typically thought to be.
Those moves, though, turned the Hurricanes from a team with a traditional fourth line – checkers, penalty-killers, maybe a tough guy – to a team with four roughly equal scoring lines, the fourth of which just happens to be centered by Ryan.
“I'll take that as a compliment, for sure” Ryan said, his daughter on his lap while his son went plundering chocolate milk in a very happy locker room afterward.
The other half of this new dynamic is that even the nominal fourth liners may not stay there for long. The new balance among the Hurricanes' forwards has given coach Bill Peters the freedom to mix and match at will. And has he ever: Between games, during games, from shift to shift sometimes.
“When a guy's going or got a little bit of extra jump, you can use him with some different people,” Peters said.
It has also led to a three-game winning streak, only the Hurricanes' fourth of the season, with Tuesday's 7-3 demolition of the Los Angeles Kings. The Hurricanes endured a dominant first shift by the Kings, punctuated by a nice Cam Ward save, and then outshot the Kings 18-1 the rest of the period, taking a 3-0 lead into the first intermission with two of the goals at even strength, including the first and second goals of Justin Faulk's natural hat trick.
There were some wobbles after that, but it was still a win, and the first period may be as well as the Hurricanes have played all year. The new lineup had a lot to do with that, just as it did Friday's 4-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks or Saturday's 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche.
It has been nine days since Peters' rant after the dismal loss to the San Jose Sharks wherein he said it would be “unacceptable” to send the same lineup out again. But no call-ups were immediately forthcoming, nor any demotions. It took a few days, after an overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, for general manager Ron Francis to comply and put Marcus Kruger and Josh Jooris on waivers before dispatching them to the AHL. This is now the lineup Peters wants.
Kruger was a prototypical fourth-line center without much offensive ability; Jooris was a rough-and-tumble winger. Absent any new arrivals, Elias Lindholm moved to center and Phil Di Giuseppe has made the most of his chance to get back into the lineup with his first goal in 14 months and, Tuesday night, a nice play to squash a Drew Doughty clearing attempt to set up the Hurricanes' sixth goal, which turned out to be a much-needed piece of insurance.
“Now, when you bump a guy up out of that four hole, whoever that is, he's a playmaking center,” Peters said.
And Ryan? He's a fourth-line center in numerator, but not by role.
“I think that we kind of struggled a little bit there, and the roster and line changes that he made gives us goal-scoring on every line,” Ryan said. “It's kind of the new NHL in my opinion. You have goal-scorers and play-makers on every line and you have a threat to score with every line.”
The new lineup doesn't account for the three power-play goals Tuesday night, which was a function of some good puck luck and some unusual indiscipline on the part of the Kings, but the Hurricanes have scored 10 even-strength goals in the past three games, all wins. That's as many as they scored in the previous eight games.
The newly retooled Hurricanes finished this eight-game homestand 5-2-1, which while still not quite ideal, is considerably better than 4-3-1 would have been. It also sends the Hurricanes into a four-game stretch against division opponents on the right note, including two games against the slumping New Jersey Devils, who may be so desperate as to start Eddie Lack in one of those games. A win Thursday would give the Hurricanes their longest winning streak of the season. Justin Williams' challenge from last week – “Playoff teams string five, six, seven wins together and we haven't done that” – remains open.
As for Kruger and Jooris, their days appear to be permanently numbered. Jooris isn't a huge load – his one-way deal, curious for a player who cleared waivers last season, is $775,000 and expires after this season – but the Hurricanes may end up retaining some of Kruger's $2.3 million next season to dump him at the deadline. Even if the Hurricanes have long-term injuries, they have Lucas Wallmark at center and Warren Foegele on the wing in Charlotte who can jump right into their lineup and are a better fit for what the Hurricanes are trying to do now than their new Checkers teammates. For short-term depth, Patrick Brown was called up late Tuesday night.
The services of Kruger and Jooris are no longer needed. A mistake in the way the Hurricanes were constructed last summer has been corrected. This team hit its lowest point last weekend. It exits this homestand chasing its longest winning streak in 13 months, a very different kind of team from when it started.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock