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At the Rink blog

Muller faces off against former coach Hitchcock

Saturday, 11.16.2013 / 1:31 PM

By Louie Korac - NHL.com Correspondent / 2013-2014 At the Rink Blog

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Muller faces off against former coach Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS -- When St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock looks across at the opposition's bench Saturday, there will be a familiar face guiding the Carolina Hurricanes.

Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller played for Hitchcock at the tail end of his 19-year career and will be opposing his former coach. It will be the third time the two have faced each other (each owns one victory), but with the Hurricanes in the midst of their best stretch of the season [4-0-1 in the past five games], Hitchcock was asked if the Hurricanes are reflective of their coach when he was a player.

"Depends which one you get," Hitchcock said. "The one in New Jersey? No. The one in Dallas? Probably a lot."

Hitchcock was referencing the transition Muller made throughout his playing career, which started with the New Jersey Devils in 1984-85 and ended with the Dallas Stars in 2002-03. It was in Dallas where Muller played for Hitchcock, who was fired by the Stars in 2002. The following season, Muller's last as a player, saw Dave Tippett take over behind the Dallas bench.

"Kirk was a really smart player. He changed his game later in his career where he played very similar to the way Brendan [Shanahan] had and [Jeremy] Roenick had where they played closer to the net, less rush attack, more down-low offensive opportunities," Hitchcock said. "He's got this team really committed to 200 feet. They use their skating legs both offensively and more important, defensively. They create a number of turnovers, frustrate you if you're not prepared to work through it. That's the way he learned."

Muller played for Hitchcock from 1999-2002 and was on the Stars roster when Hitchcock was fired.

Muller's Hurricanes have scored nine goals in their past five games but have allowed six. The style in which they're winning is certainly a reflection of their coach and how he was as a player. Muller had 959 points in 1,349 NHL games with six teams.

"Kirk's done a heck of a job," Hitchcock said. "When you're not scoring, you still have to get points and that's what they're doing. They're getting points, waiting for some of the big guns to load up. In the meantime, they're finding ways to win the close games. They're finding ways to negate other teams' scoring chances.

"I think they're a perfect example of you can either commiserate that you're not scoring or you can just get to winning hockey games. I think they've really turned it around here in the last six games, seven games because they're competing at a very high level. They're a hard team to play against now."

The Hurricanes did not have a morning skate Saturday after a 3-2 shootout victory Friday against the Anaheim Ducks but are expected to keep playing with seven defensemen.

The Blues, who defeated the Colorado Avalanche 7-3 Thursday, are 3-0-1 on their five-game homestand and will begin a stretch of facing four straight Eastern Conference opponents. They are 5-1-0 against the East this season and 29-8-5 since 2010-11, which is the best record in interconference play.

Here are the projected lineups for the Hurricanes and Blues on Saturday:

HURRICANES

Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Alexander Semin

Nathan Gerbe - Jordan Staal - Patrick Dwyer

Chris Terry - Riley Nash - Tuomo Ruutu

Drayson Bowman - Manny Malhotra

Justin Faulk - Andrej Sekera

Brett Bellemore - Ron Hainsey

Ryan Murphy - Jay Harrison

Mike Komisarek

Justin Peters

Mike Murphy

Injured: Cam Ward (lower body), Jeff Skinner (upper body), Tim Gleason (upper body), Anton Khudobin (lower body), Radek Dvorak (lower body), Kevin Westgarth (upper body)

BLUES

Alexander Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie

Brenden Morrow - Vladimir Sobotka - Chris Stewart

Jaden Schwartz - Patrik Berglund - Vladimir Tarasenko

Derek Roy - Maxim Lapierre - Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk

Ian Cole - Roman Polak

Brian Elliott

Jaroslav Halak

Scratched: Carlo Colaiacovo, Adam Cracknell

Injured: Jordan Leopold (hand), Magnus Paajarvi (upper body)

Quote of the Day

Just the feel for the direction they were headed and what they're trying to do, it just felt that this is a really good thing for this organization. They've got the pieces. We can put something together and go on a run or two and be together for a while, and I'm really excited about that opportunity. The team we have here has an opportunity to win, and that's the most attractive thing.

— Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen on why he decided to sign with the Capitals