RALEIGH, N.C. – Whether it’s a coincidence or not, Eric Staal has been seemingly unstoppable since becoming captain of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Whatever the reason, Staal has been on an offensive role since taking over the leadership role from Rod Brind’Amour on Jan. 21. He added a goal and an assist in Carolina’s 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night.
“Usually with me, it comes in bunches,” Staal said. “So I try to make sure I’m taking it to the net as much as I can and shooting from every angle. Right now, they’re falling.”
Cam Ward made 26 saves, and Matt Cullen, Stephane Yelle and Jussi Jokinen added goals for the surging Hurricanes, who have won four of five.
Ward has only allowed three goals in his last three games.
Matt Moulson scored his 20th goal of the season with 4:31 remaining to spoil Ward’s shutout bid. Rick DiPietro made 19 saves for the Islanders, who have lost three consecutive games.
“You give a team, no matter where they are in the standings, the type of chances we gave them, you’re not going to win games,” Moulson said. “They’re a team that’s hot. We knew that and we came out pretty sluggish.”
Carolina (18-28-7), despite having the worst record in the Eastern Conference, has played its best hockey of the season in the past week. The Hurricanes beat Boston and the New York Rangers by identical 5-1 scores in their previous two games.
They flashed that strong recent form midway through the first period against the Islanders, scoring twice in less than 3 minutes to take an early 2-0 lead.
“We were prepared to play tonight,” Ward said. “I thought we were really moving. We were skating awfully well and got off to a good start again, which really dictated the tempo for the rest of the game.”
With Islanders forward Josh Bailey off for tripping, Staal skated out from the goal line to DiPietro’s left, shot the puck into the goalie’s pads, and scored off the rebound.
Staal, who missed time earlier this season because of a lower body injury, also scored twice in the road win over the Rangers on Wednesday night.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said about the timing of Staal’s scoring streak. “But I also think that he’s finally starting to feel physically good. He’s back to centre ice. He couldn’t play centre ice for a while.”
After Staal’s goal, Cullen took advantage of Tom Kostopoulos’ screen and snapped a wrist shot over DiPietro’s glove. Cullen also assisted on Staal’s goal.
New York controlled play for large portions of the first period and had numerous scoring chances. But the Islanders couldn’t get the puck past Ward and didn’t have many quality opportunities in the final two periods.
Yelle scored a short-handed goal to put the Hurricanes ahead 3-0 with 10:20 remaining. Jokinen sealed the win with an empty-net goal.
The Islanders are 13th in the East, but teams in places six through 13 started the night within one point.
NOTES: Ward played in his 21st straight game. … New York D Jack Hillen missed his first game after being struck in the face by Washington forward Alex Ovechkin’s slap shot on Tuesday. He sustained a broken jaw and damaged teeth and is expected to be out six to eight weeks. … New York had won the two previous games in the season series 4-3. The teams will finish the series Feb. 6 on Long Island.