Skinner scores 3 as 'Canes top Predators

Matt Rybaltowski, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Heading into an interconference matchup, neither Carolina Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller nor Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz expected a flurry of scoring.
Each team ranked in the bottom third in the NHL in scoring and both were one of only seven teams in the league to average fewer than 2.40 goals-per-game.
But by the second intermission Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena, the teams combined for six goals -- two from Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner, who finished with a hat trick in the game.
Carolina's two-goal lead after two periods held up as the Hurricanes defeated the Predators 5-2 to win their second straight game on the road.
Carolina's offensive woes may be a thing of the past if Skinner can become the sure-fire goal scorer the Canes lacked in recent seasons. Skinner, a third-year forward, had the first hat trick of his young career.
"It's nice, I've had a couple two-goal games but I couldn't seem to find the third one," Skinner said.
With the Hurricanes (12-12-5) trailing 2-1 early in the second period, Skinner scored in transition when his soft wrist shot from the right circle deflected off Predators goalie Marek Mazanec's right leg pad and trickled into the net. Skinner's goal ignited a stretch of three Hurricanes goals in 13 minutes as Carolina handed Nashville (13-13-3) its fourth straight loss.
Roughly five minutes later, center Riley Nash gave the Hurricanes the lead for good with his second goal of the season.
Nash trailed the play on a three-on-two break and was the recipient of a nifty pass from right winger Patrick Dwyer. Skating along the right flank, Dwyer drew the puck back to an open Nash, who one-timed it into the goal.
Skinner added his second goal on a power play at 19:08 of the second period with a high slap shot into the left corner of the net over Mazanec's glove. Hurricanes center Eric Staal drew in a Predators' defenseman while skating behind the net before spotting an open Skinner near the blue line.
"He made a nice pass coming around the net to get it to me and did a great job in front of screening the goalie," Skinner said.
After finishing 0-for-6 on the power play in Sunday's 3-2 loss to the Canucks, the Hurricanes have two power-play goals in their last two games. In practice, Skinner said his team worked on simplifying its power play to place more shots on net.
Muller is confident that Skinner can continue his hot streak if he remains aggressive with his shot. With six shots on goal Thursday, Skinner has 13 shots in his last two games. Skinner had the same total in his previous seven games combined.
"I don't know how many shots he had on net tonight, but he can score when gets those opportunities," Muller said. "He's working for it."
The Predators took the lead with two goals within the opening three minutes of the second period. First, Nashville center Mike Fisher tied the score at 1 when he redirected a slap shot from defenseman Victor Bartley past Hurricanes goalie Justin Peters 0:50 of the second.
The Predators took their only lead of the game at 2:41 of the period when left winger Viktor Stalberg scored his third goal of the season on a backhand rebound. It took Carolina less than 30 seconds to score the game's opening goal when defenseman Justin Faulk beat Mazanec with an unassisted shot under his leg.
Mazanec was pulled for Carter Hutton after the second intermission. The NHL Rookie of the Month for November surrendered at least three goals for the second straight game. Before Tuesday's loss to Vancouver, Mazanec went nine straight starts without allowing three goals.
"Mazanec has been so good but tonight he just didn't give us a save," Trotz said. "We knew they were going to come out fast when they scored on the first shift. Their top guys were good tonight and we didn't have a match for them. They got four goals in 13 shots, that's not a good night for us."
Peters, who finished with 20 saves, improved to 6-7-1 on the season. Skinner capped the scoring with an empty net goal at 17:53.
"He's a dynamic player," Bartley said. "He will shoot off the rush and shoot when he's turning. You really have to be on your game to try to block shots against him. If we're going to win games we have to sacrifice and block shots."
NOTES: Predators G Marek Mazanec received NHL Rookie of the Month honors for November after posting a 5-4-1 record with a 2.00 goals-against-average, .932 save percentage and two shutouts in 11 appearances during the month. ... Entering Thursday night's game, Predators rookie D Seth Jones led all first-year NHL players in average ice time per game (23:55). The figure is almost three minutes more than the next closest rookie, Jacob Trouba of Winnipeg. Jones has the top six ice times by rookies in the league this season. ... Hurricanes RW Alexander Semin missed his ninth consecutive game with a concussion. Hurricanes D Tim Gleason, D Brent Bellemore and RW Kevin Westgarth were also scratched. ... The Hurricanes finished Thursday's win short-handed, as F Patrick Dwyer, D Mike Komisarek (lower body) and F Drayson Bowman (lower body) all left with injuries. Dwyer underwent further testing, according to the Hurricanes. Muller did not indicate if any of the three players will be available on Friday vs. San Jose.

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