RALEIGH, N.C. – The fire helmet sat beside Kris Versteeg who was the last player taking his skates off following the Carolina Hurricanes’ 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche at PNC Arena on Friday.
The headgear is the player-of-the-game honor passed along from the previous recipient following a team win, and a two-assist performance against Colorado earned it for the NHL veteran.
The well-traveled winger with two Stanley Cups to his credit is playing in his ninth season with his fifth team, and is currently tied for the team lead in overall points (7) with defenseman Justin Faulk.
Through most of his career, Versteeg’s role has been to be a catalyst on special teams, both on the power play and on the penalty kill.
During his first three seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, leading up to their Cup win in 2010, Versteeg scored 10 power play goals and seven shorthanded.
During the last two seasons with the Blackhawks, as well as while playing with Toronto, Philadelphia and Florida before returning to Chicago and winning another Cup, he made his mark more on the power play.
He posted 17 more career goals in those situations before coming to Carolina.
Thus, you can say he knows a little bit about what it takes to be successful in special teams play, and more specifically with the man-advantage.
He pointed out that pace and tempo are important factors.
“The best power plays I’ve seen are always with guys working harder than the penalty kill,” Versteeg said.
“They’re makin’ teams stay out there for a good minute, two-minutes with good chances. It’s not just one chance or two chances. They’re in there, they’re getting chance after chance, and it wears down the defense on the PK and that’s where you usually get your breaks.”
Carolina went 1-for-4 on the power play against the Avalanche, a positive point considering the Hurricanes are now 4-for-41 (9.7%) on the power play this season – 28th overall in the NHL.
Faulk’s second-period power-play goal was his fourth of the season, putting him in a tie for first among all leauge skaters and atop all defensemen in posting man-advantage markers.
“It’s just the way it is,” Faulk said when asked if he was impressed that all of his goals have been on special teams, an area that the team has been struggling with.
“Just shoot pucks and they’ve been able to go in a few times. I’ll take ‘em any way they come.”
Versteeg added that puck movement and scoring chances would result as line combinations developed chemistry with one another – something that’s been slow to surface amongst Carolina’s power play corps.
“I think it’s getting comfortable with each other,” Versteeg added.
“I know for myself, I’ve played with two different units, so you’re around nine new guys you’ve never played with, while some (teams’) power plays, the best have been together for years. It’s just gettin’ used to guys and slowly building that chemistry and hopefully our power play starts winning games. I know I can be better, and that’s what we’re gonna need for us to start winning more games.”
Head coach Bill Peters is a numbers guy – he knows where his team stands and it’s not where he wants it to be.
“We’ve got room to improve in both specialty teams, and we will,” he said.
“If you look at the standings around the league, we’re in the bottom third. We know that and we’ll work on that. It will be a good opportunity in the month of November, being at home as much as we are, to have some quality practice time.”
If improvement comes on the power play, then it should also translate into even-strength scoring.
As Versteeg noted, confidence is what apparently is lacking and keeping Carolina at slightly above two goals per game (2.09) while allowing just under three against (2.73).
Averaging three goals per game in its last two during the team’s current three-game win streak, Peters is sensing a more positive turn to come.
“We’re getting closer now,” the coach added.
“We’ve got got some traction now and have got a little bit of confidence. We’ve got both goaltenders going and I think we’re going in the right direction for sure. There’s a lot of positives.”
“If we do things right and play the right way we’re gonna continue to generate offense.”
“It’s time for other guys to step up, including myself,” he concluded.
“I know I’ve always prided myself on scoring on the power play and I need to. It’s a challenge that I look forward to and hopefully it starts goin’ in.”