The win capped off a successful 12-day road trip during which the team finished with an impressive 4-1-1 record, the second-best six-game road trip in team history since February 1996.
Role players producing
Though the Hurricanes’ notable stars like Eric and Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, and Alexander Semin have all been producing, it was the team’s role players like Tlusty that got the job done against New Jersey.
Leading the team’s forechecking line currently, Jussi Jokinen picked up his first goal of the season on the power play early in the second period to tie the score 1-1 at the time.
Pat Dwyer gave Carolina its first lead of the game later in the period, tipping in a Jay Harrison point shot for his fourth goal of the season.
Fitting into the top line
Since the beginning of the season, Muller had been trying to find a high-energy player to skate alongside Eric Staal and Semin.
After placing Tlusty on that line, the trio’s production has increased exponentially as they’ve scored 15 points (7 goals, 8 assists) in the last three games.
“What I like about it is the way they’re playing,“ Muller said of the Hurricanes' top-producing line after Tuesday’s win.
“I know they’re gettin’ points, but they’re playing the game the right way.”
Knowing his role
Tlusty always has a positive outlook and what he can bring to the rink every day.
A first-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft (13th overall), the same draft year of teammates Jordan Staal (Pittsburgh) and Bobby Sanginetti (New York Rangers), the Hurricanes acquired him in a trade back on Dec. 9, 2009 for their first-round pick (27th overall) that year, Phillipe Paradis.
It was an exchange that gained the Hurricanes a more experienced, hard-working winger for an unknown center prospect at the time.
It is a deal that has now started to really reap its benefits as Tlusty’s versatility makes him a valuable asset and part of the team’s game plan.
“Whatever they tell me, I have no problem playing the shutting down role, or playing on the offensive line,” Tlusty said after a practice following the team’s first game of the season.
At the time, Tlusty was playing a more defensive role as Muller was trying to fit different wingers with Staal and Semin.
Even with that assignment, Tlusty just looked forward to the opportunity to do what was asked of him, and to take advantage of any chances he got to help the team win games.
“Whenever you play the defensive role, usually you have some (scoring) chances too.”
Enough can’t be said of the attitude and work ethic of this young Czech-born player from Slany who grew up idolizing another hard-working and talented NHLer from there, Jaromir Jagr.
Tlusty’s recent goal-scoring surge, seven points (5 goals, 2 assists) in the team’s last three games, shouldn’t come as a surprise when you look back at his history.
He knows how to score goals, and has done it when he’s been given the opportunity to.
During his rookie season in 2007, he appeared in 58 games for the Leafs and finished with 10 goals and six assists (16 points) with 14 penalty minutes.
Most notably, he scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner, in his NHL debut against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After coming to Carolina, when he was recalled from Charlotte for the first time in December 2011, he scored a goal against the Washington Capitals.
He knows how to make first-time impressions when he’s been in the position to do so.
Though he has had some injuries to deal with during his career in Toronto and Carolina, it seems that he has now settled into being a reliable sixth-year pro who knows how to play at both ends of the ice as needed.
Continuing to evolve
Tlusty had the best season of his career last year, establishing career highs in games played (79), goals (17), assists (19) and points (36), while ranking fourth on the team in points, tied for fourth in assists, and tied for fifth in goals.
Tlusty knows what Muller expects of him, no matter what line he plays on.
“He wants energy from myself and everyone else,” Tlusty said.
Right now, that energy is translating into goal production and support for both Staal and Semin.
As the Hurricanes’ top line continues to evolve and develop chemistry, will Tlusty take over goal-scoring responsibilities for the Hurricanes?
Not necessarily, but his ability to get them when he can, like he did against New Jersey, will only solidify his role in building the strength and power of the team’s top line as the season progresses.