Skinner’s contribution to the Hurricanes after only three games has been exponential since last Saturday.
He skated on his own in the Toronto area, traveled to Raleigh once and skated with Eric Staal, Jay Harrison and a few others, but left many wondering how ready he would be when the NHL season finally began.
Changing jersey colors
During a 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers, Skinner didn’t register a point, finished with a -2 plus/minus rating, took four shots on goal, and earned a hooking penalty that resulted in a power play goal for the Panthers.
Though he was not the only player lacking in his performance and effort against the Panthers, his was noticeable enough for coach Kirk Muller to adjust his lines, so that the third-year forward found himself wearing a different color jersey during the team’s practice leading up to its home opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Muller preached about discipline and taking bad penalties, and shook things up as a result of allowing three power play goals against Florida.
“Discipline is taking bad penalties in the wrong places at the wrong time and long shifts,” Muller said after that practice.
Though Muller never ranks his lines by numbers, changing them up to find the right combinations was one thing, but by placing Skinner on a line that didn’t have either Eric or Jordan Staal on it, sent a message no matter which way anyone looked at it.
During that practice, Skinner’s demeanor was energetic and jovial on the outside, but to anyone who has watched him regularly, you could see that he was determined to earn his rightful place on the team’s depth chart – closer to the top than the bottom.
At one point near the end of practice, Muller had a moment to talk with Skinner.
When asked about it, Skinner simply stated that his coach’s message to him was to, ‘just come out hard and work as hard as you can.’
First goal of the season
Against the Lightning, it was Skinner who scored the team’s only goal for the game on a power play, his first of the season.
The exuberance and elation he felt in scoring it revealed the patented smile he flashes on those occasions.
Though Skinner had scored, the team suffered another loss, but with a brighter outlook afterwards that left Muller still wanting more.
“We need a couple more guys to raise their game just five percent and it makes a huge difference,” the Hurricanes coach said after that game.
According to Skinner, the team’s performance was not one to panic over and when asked if the line changes made an impact, he casually referred to the improvement as being part of his and everyone else’s increased effort.
“I don’t think so,” he said.
“I think if we were getting worse, there would be something to worry about, but I think the effort was there and I don’t think we came out as flat as we did last game.”
Muller elaborated on Skinner’s performance after the loss to Tampa Bay.
“I thought he worked hard tonight - he was very involved, probably one of our best forwards tonight,” Muller said.
“When he works like that, he’s a creative player. He can change and be a game-breaker. I thought he had a really good, strong game tonight.”
Call Skinner’s performance against the Lightning the five percent contribution that Muller was looking for.
The next day in practice, Skinner was back to skating alongside Jordan Staal in preparation for the team’s game against Buffalo.
When asked about the changes in the team’s overall demeanor at practice following the loss, Muller simply stated, “the messages work.”
“For me, we just gotta’ raise our competitive level,” Muller continued.
“If we increase our intensity as a group, five percent (by) each guy, the other stuff sorts itself out.”
By the time the final horn blew against the Sabres, the 6-3 final score in mathematical terms had Skinner contributing 33.3 percent, one-third of the team’s scoring output for the night.
It was a much larger contribution than just the five percent being asked of him and others like Eric and Jordan Staal and goaltender Cam Ward, to name a few, to make.
When asked what it is about Muller’s ability to motivate individual players like himself, Skinner simply said, “he’s a coach that likes to talk to his players.”
“He communicates well with them and I think it helps a player.”
For Skinner, hearing those words and messages allowed him to move to where he and others expected him to be this early in the season - at the top of the Hurricanes scoring list.