The last place a player wants to end up in is the coach's "doghouse" and it appears that the Hurricanes newly re-signed forward Tuomo Ruutu is in that spot right now with head coach Kirk Muller. There was some suspicion that Ruutu was in trouble on Friday when he was placed on the fourth line during the third period in the game against Columbus. That thought was confirmed the next day when Ruutu was benched six minutes into the third period after playing a total of three shifts in that frame.
Ruutu's performance since returning from injury has been underwhelming to say the least. He has only one point in nine games and the only game where I thought he made a difference was Wednesday's 3-1 win against Florirda. Ruutu needs to be out there making a difference in every game and going by the numbers, he has not been doing that at all.
Here's a game-by-game breakdown of Ruutu's scoring chance numbers & zone starts since returning from his upper-body injury.
In addition to this, Ruutu has only been on ice for two of the Hurricanes even strength goals and six of the opponents while controlling way less than 50% of the even strength corsi events. This is a very small sample size so it likely doesn't mean much in the big picture but it is safe to say that Ruutu's performance has not been up to standard in these nine games. Ruutu was one of the team's best forwards for most of the year so for him to be outchanced by 10 over nine games is pretty bad. Although it's a little odd for him to be starting in the defensive zone more because that's not how he's normally utilized, but it's still easy to see why Muller could be frustrated with him. We've seen Muller demand a lot out of his players and he clearly wants to see more out of Ruutu than what he's done so far.
The numbers explain things pretty clearly, but to get a better idea of what caused Muller to bench Ruutu, I went over his shifts from the last two games to see if there's any visual evidence of Ruutu playing poorly. I did a similar project with Zach Boychuk earlier in the month when he was benched and demoted. We'll begin this after the jump.
We are going to start things off with the Columbus game from last Friday. Ruutu played a little less than 15 minutes, which isn't completely abnormal but he was also demoted to the fourth line with Derek Joslin & Anthony Stewart. That's when people start to think that Ruutu was being sent a message by the coach and there's definitely a few things Ruutu did in this game that may have ticked Muller off.
Columbus 1st Period
18:42: Ruutu checks Brett Lebda after he delivers a breakout pass and gets caught in his own zone. This doesn't hurt the team as Jokinen was able to retrieve the puck in the neutral zone, but still a bit of a unnecessary decision that could have led to a bad result. Aside from that Ruutu spent most of the shift watching the play and cheated up in the neutral zone a lot of times to get a head start on the forecheck. Unfortunately, the Hurricanes could never establish a forecheck on this shift so Ruutu didn't really do anything.
15:30: Ruutu was very active on the forecheck on this shift. He started things off by delivering a short pass to Jussi Jokinen for a zone entry and then went to the front of the net to screen Mason while the Hurricanes set up a play in the offensive zone. Later in the shift, he forced a turnover on Ryan Russell to allow the Hurricanes to keep possession. He then returned to his normal spot at the front of the net and Jokinen was able to get a good scoring chance a few seconds later. Ruutu was knocked down by Lebda before he could get to the rebound and the Jackets got possession.
12:30: Mixed shift for Ruutu as he starts things off by checking Columbus defenseman Nikita Nikitin which forces a turnover, but Jokinen quickly gives the puck back to the Jackets. The Hurricanes were able to get the puck back but not for long as Ruutu could not control a break-out pass and the Jackets regained possession.
8:39 POWERPLAY: Ruutu does a nice job of holding in a Columbus clearing attempt and he then got the puck back to the point which resulted in a shot on goal.
5:42: Mostly just watches the play and doesn't get involved with much.
4:40 POWERPLAY: Like he did earlier in the game, Ruutu was cheating up in the neutral zone to get an advantage on the forecheck. Unfortunately, all this resulted in was Ruutu standing at the blue line for about 20 seconds while the Hurricanes tried to enter the zone (and fail miserably at it). Ruutu later gains possession and dumps the puck in to enter the zone but the Hurricanes turn the puck over and the Jackets nearly get a shorthanded chance. Ruutu then carries the puck through the neutral zone when the Hurricanes regain possession and is able to get the puck to Jokinen for a zone entry. No chances or shots resulted from this.
0:56: Ruutu began this shift by fighting off RJ Umberger for positioning at the front of the net and he mainly just watched the play from there until the Jackets were able to get the puck out of the zone. Later, Ruutu was unable to retain a pass in the neutral zone and made up for it by deliverin ga hit to force a turnover, he then dumped the puck in from center ice. Ruutu also made a nice play towards the end of his shift by making a zone entry pass to Joni Pitkanen before going off on a change. This was instrumental in keeping the play alive at the end of the period.
Columbus 2nd Period
18:25: Another good shift for Ruutu as he started things off by checking Nikitin which forces a bad clear and the Hurricanes are able to keep the puck in the zone. However, Ruutu also lost control of a puck in the corner and it led to the Jackets clearing it and getting a line change. He makes up for it by delivering a nice breakout pass in the neutral zone to Jokinen. A shot on goal and an offensive zone faceoff is the result. Ruutu goes to the front of the net after the faceoff.
14:39: Ruutu decides to play it safe at the beginning of his shift by giving the puck to Jamie McBain in the neutral zone so the Hurricanes can get a breakout going. This failed as Ruutu lost an edge on the breakout attempt and turned the puck over as a result.
11:43: The Hurricanes get a 2-on-1 opportunity with Jokinen & Ruutu. As Jokinen delivers the pass to Ruutu, Columbus defenseman David Savard is able to get to Ruutu on the back check and forces him to fan on the shot. Ruutu then collides into Steve Mason and takes a goalie interference penalty. Columbus would then score on the ensuing powerplay. This could have been one of the things that ticked off Muller but I think a lot of credit should go to Savard for his defensive play here.
9:25: Nothing noteworthy happened.
6:44: The shift starts off well as Ruutu is able to force the Jackets to ice the puck by being active on the fore-check. The resulting offensive zone faceoff is when things get dicey. He wins the draw and gets the puck to Skinner, who can't finish his chance and is then stuck playing defense while Pitkanen is pinching in the offensive zone. In the neutral zone, Ruutu fails to handle a pass and turns the puck over he then slowly goes off for a change which results in the Jackets getting an odd-man rush and a goal.
Ruutu was not charged with a goal against here because he wasn't on the ice when it happened but it was his careless turnover and slow line change that caused it. In the highlight clip, it looks like the odd-man rush happened because Chad LaRose & Jiri Tlusty didn't get back in time. The reason why they were late getting back is because LaRose couldn't get on the ice until Ruutu got off for his line change and he was incredibly slow at going off. You also have to take into account that Ruutu went off for a change immediately after he turned the puck over, which probably wasn't the best decision. These kinds of things drive coaches crazy.
2:55: Ruutu successfully makes a breakout pass to Anthony Stewart, which leads to him breaking free in the offensive zone and being all alone at the side of the net. Stewart quickly gets the puck to Ruutu but he can't handle it and the puck bounces off his stick.
Columbus 3rd period
15:34: Ruutu is standing at the front of th net while Derrick Dorsett gets a wrap-around chance. He wasn't involved in the play that much in the offensive zone either, but he did a nice job of taking down Jarred Boll to gain positioning at the front of the net.
11:20: Ruutu is able to get a shot off from the outside, but it's blocked.
6:48: Ruutu is now playing with Brent & Stewart and he starts his shift off by losing the faceoff. However, he is able to keep the play in the offensive zone by winning a puck battle and getting the puck to the point.
5:02: Ruutu slow on back-check while the Jackets get a chance on goal.
2:22: Ruutu carelessly turns the puck over in the neutral zone and it leads to two scoring chances for the Jackets.
We can see here that Ruutu clearly made a lot of mistakes and turnovers that led to the Jackets getting possession, shots and chances which could have prompted Muller to bump him down to the fourth line. He did a lot of good things in the offensive zone and clearly brought his physical game but too many times, he was an spectator instead of a participant in the play. It seemed like Ruutu was more comfortable watching the play from the blue line or the front of the net instead of getting involved with it, and I think this rubbed the coaching staff the wrong way. I know that Ruutu's job is to create traffic in front of the net but he can't be standing there while a puck-battle is occurring. He has to be more involved in that sense.
What likely got him demoted to the fourth line was that slow line change that led to the Jackets' third goal. I know the play was in the Jackets' end but he gave them possession and could have at least hustled more when getting off for his change. He essentially gave the Jackets a 5-on-4 advantage for a few seconds and it was enough for Umberger to slip into the offensive zone untouched for a goal. He put his teammates in a bad situation and it cost him. The careless turnover he made late in the game probably didn't sit well with the coaching staff either. Mistakes like this are going to happen, though and they look a lot worse when you're not producing enough in other areas.
Everything gets put under a magnifying glass when you're in the doghouse but Muller gave Ruutu another chance the next day against Detroit, but he clearly didn't impress the coaching staff enough in that game either.
Detroit 1st Period
19:22 & 16:25: Nothing noteworthy happened on either of these shifts but Ruutu wasn't involved in the play that much at all.
15:02: Ruutu turns the puck over after trying to enter the neutral zone. He attempts to poke-check Kyle Quincey to get the puck back but it fails. Interesting to see him go for that move instead of a hit like he did a few times against Columbus.
8:44: Ruutu once again gives possession back to the Red Wings by failing to control the puck in the offensive zone.
5:21: The shift starts off nicely as Ruutu gets a zone entry with control and sends a weak back-hander towards the net which is easily steered away by Ty Conklin. Wings get possession back and Ruutu looks confused in the defensive zone as Nick Lidstrom gets a shot on goal. Jeff Skinner is then able to generate a scoring chance off the rush the other way and Ruutu gets to the rebound. He sends the puck towards the net where four Detroit players are waiting and, as you can probably guess, a turnover results.
1:29: Doesn't do much in the defensive zone and Detroit gets a chance on net.
Detroit 2nd period
18:52: Ruutu helps lead a break out for the Hurricanes but doesn't do much else.
17:25: Ruutu's only major activity was creating a zone entry by dumping the puck in.
14:50: Nothing noteworthy happened
11:24: Ruutu isn't able to control the puck in the corner and he gives Detroit possession in the Carolina zone.
6:40: The Hurricanes get a scoring chance after Ruutu makes a good pass to Jeff Skinner.
3:02: The Red Wings have possession in the Hurricanes zone for a good 20 seconds. Ruutu looks as if he's unsure who to defend as Jamie McBain is out of position and Pitkanen is left to cover two Detroit players at the front of the net. Ruutu elects to go to the point to defend the Lidstrom shot, but he's able to get it off anyway. Todd Bertuzzi is able to get the rebound and bat the puck in the net out of mid-air. This wasn't necessarily Ruutu's fault because he had no control over McBain being out of position and he had the right idea in mind by defending the point. He's not suited to play in the defensive zone this often so it's normal for him to be confused, I suppose.
1:00: Nothing noteworthy happened.
Detroit 3rd period
18:43: Nothing noteworthy happened
15:12: Ruutu was not involved with the play at all and he was stuck in the defensive zone for most of the time.
13:13: Ruutu makes a back-hadned pass to Jokinen in the neutral zone & gets a zone entry by dumping the puck in. This was his last shift of the game.
There weren't that many glaring mistakes by Ruutu on Saturday but he did not have a good game at all. He struggled to handle the puck, didn't get many good shots off and looked lost when he had to play defense. Ruutu wasn't producing much offense and he was giving way too much back at the other end with the turnovers and spotty defensive play. It's also worth noting that Jokinen & Skinner produced most of the chances he was on ice for. Ruutu contributing to a couple but for the most part, he wasn't the one driving the play on that line. Muller definitely noticed this and when coupling it with Ruutu's play from the previous night, it probably led to his decision to bench him.
This definitely isn't the kind of performance you want after signing a new contract but I could see this being a non-issue come next season. There's a very good chance that Ruutu isn't at 100% because he's only just returning from an injury and there haven't been many details released as to what that injury is. We all know that Ruutu has the talent to be a contributor for this team and I think he will get out of this rut, even if that isn't until next season. There are no passengers on Muller's ship and Ruutu needs to stop being a spectator if he wants to find his way out of the doghouse, which I think he will.