Carolina’s top line has a little bit of everything. Eric Staal is the shooter, Ray Whitney the passer and Chad LaRose is the thorn.
LaRose scored 19 goals this season for the Canes and continues to put himself into the upper echelon of “energy” players in the league. He had two assists in Carolina’s 4-0 Game 6 win over New Jersey, the first of which was a perfect example of what makes LaRose such an effective player. Devils defenseman Paul Martin had a tough play trying to bat down a high puck and clear it from the slot. But he may have been able to sweep it aside had LaRose not been all over him, forcing the turnover and allowing Staal to swoop in and score the first of his two goals in the contest.
And if that play exemplified what LaRose brings to the trio, Staal’s second marker was a prime demonstration of what Whitney contributes. The man who led Carolina with 53 assists this year threaded a perfect 2-on-1 pass to Staal, showing terrific patience and precision.
As for Staal, he was much more than just a triggerman. Beyond putting pucks in the back of the net, the center showed he can be the engine that drives the Canes, using his big body to burn down the wing and wire shot after shot (six in total to lead the game) at Martin Brodeur. When Carolina won the Cup in 2006, Staal led the playoffs in scoring as an NHL sophomore. His team – and it is just that – needs another huge performance from him if it’s going to get a road win in Game 7.
New Jersey, meanwhile, obviously needs an offensive boost. The Devils have scored just one goal in the past two games and Zach Parise – who scored in the series’ first three games – hasn’t found the net since Game 3. Parise needs his entire line forechecking hard to be effective. Where as Staal is adept at lugging the puck into the zone and creating chances off the rush, Parise is a pro at darting between the front of the net and the corners in search of loose pucks and point shots to tip.
If New Jersey doesn’t do a better job of asserting itself in Carolina’s zone, Parise really can’t get to work. Obviously it’s on him to help create an effective attack, but he won’t be able to do it alone.
Depth has been the Devils’ calling card all season and they need all their forwards to make a more definitive push in the decisive game.
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Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
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