Hurricanes’ fourth line relied on for more than just defense

Marcus Kruger, Brock McGinn and Joakim Nordstrom are a shutdown trio who can add secondary scoring

Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter passes around Carolina center Marcus Kruger in the third period of their game Oct. 10 at PNC Arena. (Eamon Queeney / North State Journal)

RALEIGH — The first — and only — offensive zone start for the Carolina Hurricanes’ fourth line in Saturday’s season opener came 11:18 into the first period with a few seconds remaining on the power play.

Center Marcus Kruger was kicked out of the faceoff circle — “I thought I had a pretty clean win there,” he said on Monday — and linemate Brock McGinn stepped in to take the draw.

A second had clicked off the clock, so the referees took a moment to straighten things out, giving the line a chance to discuss the upcoming draw.

“We had some time to talk it over, what we wanted to do on that faceoff,” Kruger said.

McGinn lined up against Wild captain Mikko Koivu, with Kruger sliding to the right wing.

“I was lucky to win that one — I think it went off my foot,” McGinn said.

Kruger got the puck and curled to the right of Minnesota goalie Alex Stalock.

“My first thought was maybe to pass it to Nordy, but when I saw I couldn’t do that I tried to put it in [Stalock’s] feet,” said Kruger, who played in his 400th NHL game Tuesday against Columbus.

Hurricanes left wing Joakim Nordstrom (42) reacts after scoring on Wild goalie Alex Stalock in the first period of their games Oct. 7 at PNC Arena Arena. (Eamon Queeney / North State Journal)

A scramble ensued and eight seconds after the puck was dropped it was in the net, with Joakim Nordstrom, the third forward on the line, credited with the goal that tied the game at 1.

“It’s interesting; up to that point they had our last three even-strength goals, that line,” coach Bill Peters said of the trio. “Two against Washington (in the preseason finale), one against Minny to get us on the board.

“It’s a good line. It’s a good line we have a lot of confidence in.”

The wings have stayed the same, but the addition of Kruger in the middle — taking the place of Jay McClement — solidifies the checking line.

“That’s been my role pretty much in Chicago for the past few years, so it’s nothing new, really,” Kruger said. “I think that’s an opportunity we want to embrace and do as good as we can.”

It also gives Peters options he hasn’t had since coming to Raleigh three-plus years ago.

“It’s a different feel. Our depth is so much better,” Peters said after the 5-4 shootout win over the Wild. “The Kruger line, you can start them against anybody, you can start them in the D zone.”

And he did. Other than the one shift that resulted in their goal, the Kruger line was sent out almost exclusively in the defensive zone against lines centered by Koivu or Eric Staal, the Wild’s top two centers. That doesn’t, however, mean the line is just charged with preventing goals.

“Just because you’re playing on the fourth line doesn’t mean you have to only play defense,” Nordstrom said. “So we’re trying to treat the puck like our baby and hold onto it and try to make plays at the right time.”

Nordstrom and Kruger already had chemistry from their time together with the Blackhawks and on Team Sweden at this summer’s World Championships, so the duo hasn’t missed a beat at even strength or when killing penalties together.

“From Day One, when I started my career over here in Chicago, he kind of took me under his wing,” Nordstrom said of Kruger. “So off the ice, it’s been nice to have him here, and on the ice, obviously, he’s proven to be a really good player.

“He can play against any player out there. He can play as a shutdown player; he’s got a lot of offense in him to make plays with the puck,” Nordstrom added. “So that’s something I feel is maybe different from last year, adding a little bit more offense on to our fourth line.”

Peters has said the line, which could include newcomer Josh Jooris at times, frees up Jordan Staal from handling all the tough assignments on a nightly basis. That means more offensive draws for the team’s best faceoff man — Staal won 59.1 percent last year, fourth among NHL players with at least 150 taken — that could lead to more scoring.

Just don’t count out the fourth line from creating some goals of their own.

“We don’t want to get scored on ever, and I think we can match up against any line and go in the offensive zone and do work,” McGinn said. “So I think we’re just really building together right now as a line, and it’s a lot of fun.”