(AP) — Jeff Skinner leads all rookies in scoring this season. No NHL player has more goals than him this month.

The 18-year-old center looks to remain hot Wednesday and help the Carolina Panthers head into the All-Star break by continuing their dominance of the New York Islanders.

The seventh overall selection in last year’s draft, Skinner is the league’s rookie scoring leader with 40 points. He’s four shy of matching Shane Willis’ total from 2000-01, the most by a Hurricanes rookie since the franchise relocated from Hartford prior to the 1997-98 season.

Skinner is closing in on that mark in impressive fashion, scoring nine of his 18 goals in 13 games this month – matching Philadelphia’s Danny Briere for the most goals in January.

“He’s just a special player,” coach Paul Maurice said of Skinner, who also has five assists this month.

Skinner’s emergence is a major reason Carolina (24-19-6) is within one point of Atlanta for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot. The Hurricanes are 13-2-0 when Skinner scores. He had the eventual game-winner midway through the third period in a 6-4 home victory over Toronto on Monday.

“He’s certainly in the right spots,” defenseman Jay Harrison said. “He has a terrific nose for the net, and he’s not afraid to get the dirty goals. He’s working for them. That’s what’s most impressive to me, to see a young man come in and do that and not be intimidated.”

Skinner had a goal and set up Joe Corvo’s in a 7-2 home win over the Islanders (15-26-7) on Nov. 3, helping extend the Hurricanes’ winning streak in the series to three.

Carolina is 11-2-2 in the last 15 meetings with New York, including a 5-0-1 mark at Nassau Coliseum.

Eric Staal has 16 goals and seven assists in 24 career games against the Islanders. The center, who leads the Hurricanes with 23 goals and 49 points, will captain one of the All-Star teams. Goaltender Cam Ward is Carolina’s other representative.

Ward is 11-2-1 with a 2.26 goals-against average and one shutout in 15 career games versus New York, including a 31-save effort in November.

The Islanders, one of three teams without an All-Star representative, are mired in a 2-6-1 funk after losing 1-0 at Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

Goaltending is turning into a strange saga for New York, which suspended Evgeni Nabokov for not reporting to the team after being claimed off waivers last week. Nabokov signed a one-year contract with Detroit on Thursday, but needed to clear waivers.

If he doesn’t report, the Islanders could force him to miss all of next season.

“I don’t know what will happen with that situation, but it’s not something we’re worried about,” defenseman Dylan Reese said. “We’re worried about getting wins right now, and if he comes, he comes and if he doesn’t, he doesn’t.”

Rookie Kevin Poulin helped soften the blow of Nabokov’s absence with a 30-save effort in Tuesday’s loss. He’s 2-2-1 with a 2.59 GAA in seven games.

New York’s other goalie, Rick DiPietro, has posted a 4.85 GAA while losing his last seven starts against the Hurricanes.

Updated January 26, 2011
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pixy Islanders Try To Break Funk Against Canes

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