Maurice, who replaced Peter Laviolette on Wednesday, is the second new coach to be anointed within the Southeast Division in less than a month. Rick Tocchet replaced Barry Melrose in Tampa Bay on Nov. 14.
The 41-year-old Maurice, the winningest coach in Hurricanes history (268 wins) before being let go Dec. 15, 2003, knows he's joining a different team than the one he previously led for eight-plus seasons. Maurice suffered a 5-2 setback to the Pittsburgh Penguins in his debut Thursday.
"There are not a lot of faces I recognize in that room from my previous time as coach, so building relationships and finding our strengths will be important," Maurice said. "The game prior to the lockout is completely different than the game we see now. When I last coached Carolina, there was clutching and grabbing and that's how our team was built. When you watch teams play now, there's a much bigger defensive component without the clutching and grabbing."
Maurice, who was taking classes at the University of Windsor prior to getting the call from Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford, may not be familiar with some of the faces in the locker room, but he is accustomed to the style of play in Eastern Conference.
"Last season there were three teams that ran a two-man forecheck in the Eastern Conference -- Carolina, Buffalo and Toronto -- and none of them qualified for the playoffs," Maurice said. "The team that won the Stanley Cup, though, ran that same forecheck, so there is a way. There will be growing pains, but we need to find that balance to where players can go absolutely as hard as they can and when it makes sense not to chase or get behind in position by expending that energy because that's what the strong teams are able to do."
Budding backup -- Don't look now, but Florida Panthers backup goalie Craig Anderson currently leads the League with a .947 save percentage and is tied for third with a 1.89 goals-against average.
The 27-year-old native of Park Ridge, Ill., is 5-0-3 in his last nine appearances, including a 45-save, 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Dec. 4.
"My job as a goalie is to make sure that I get prepared in practice for when I do play and give us the best chance to win," Anderson said. "It starts in off-days in practice and (Tomas) Vokoun works hard in practice as well. We work terrific together; we're the first guys on the ice and the last guys off."
Vokoun, the incumbent starter in Florida, has a 3.01 GAA with a .911 save percentage in 16 games. Anderson's strong play has come at the perfect time. Not only has it earned him increased playing time this season, it's looking good for his future -- he can become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
"You can call it what you want, but our job when called upon is to win games," Anderson said when asked if his strong play has created a goalie controversy. "If I can win games and push Vokoun to play well, then he's going to be better when he starts again, so it's good for everybody. My job is to do one thing and that's stop the puck. It's very simple."
Anderson undoubtedly is enjoying his time between the pipes. The Panthers, who entered the weekend on a 4-0-2 tear, are ninth in the Eastern Conference with 25 points, one behind No. 8 Carolina.
"He's given us good goaltending all year," said Panthers coach Peter DeBoer. "We're at the point now that whoever is winning games and getting us points is going to play."
"I don't think about the fact that I'm playing so much because that's what I want to do," Anderson said. "The guys have been doing an excellent job in front of me so I'll get 100 shots that I can see versus 10 that I can't. It's great to see the guys getting out on the forecheck and outworking the other team and getting rewarded for it."
Southeast spotlight -- Very quietly, Washington Capitals center Tomas Fleischmann is in the midst of a career year.
The 24-year-old Czech Republic native entered Saturday's game against Toronto with points in eight of the last 11 games (6 goals, 4 assists). He posted his fourth multiple-point game of the year Tuesday in a 5-3 loss to the Florida Panthers. His 10 goals through 26 games this season already matches the 10 he scored in 75 games last season. Fleischmann has had at least one shot on goal in 25 games and five of his 10 goals have been Washington's first of the game. He also has become a vital cog to the Capitals' power-play and penalty-killing units.
Fleischmann was selected by the Detroit Red Wings in the second round (No. 63) in the 2002 Entry Draft and traded to Washington along with Detroit's first-round choice in the 2004 Entry Draft (which they used on defenseman Mike Green) and Detroit's fourth-round choice in 2006 for Robert Lang on Feb. 27, 2004. In his first full NHL season in the League in 2007-08, Fleischmann ranked ninth on the team with 30 points. He also averaged 12:37 of ice time.
He's averaging more than 15 minutes through 26 games this season.
"I don't know if the game around me is slowing down or if I'm speeding up," Fleischmann said. "It took me one year (with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League) and it has taken one year (in the NHL). I'm just starting to find my way here. I don't have to think about it anymore. I just do it."
Esposito earns shot -- Atlanta Thrashers prospect Angelo Esposito has been invited to the Canadian junior team evaluation camp, from which Hockey Canada will name the majority of the roster for the 2009 World Junior Championship. It marks the fourth time Esposito has been invited to the junior camp, which will be staged Dec. 11-15 in Ottawa and Gatineau.
The World Junior Championships will be held Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Ottawa. The 19-year-old Esposito came to the Thrashers organization in the Marian Hossa trade last February. Esposito was the Penguins' first selection in the 2007 Entry draft and currently plays for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Montreal Juniors. In 18 games with the Juniors, Esposito has 12 goals, 22 points and 11 penalty minutes.
Pat Quinn will be the head coach for Team Canada.
The spitfire -- It took Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steve Downie nine games to break the ice and record his first goal of the season -- against the team that drafted him three years ago.
"He has a lot of potential; he's kind of like a little spitfire. I heard his skating was a little suspect but I don't mind the skating; I think he will improve. We have a skating coach here and a good staff to work with him. He's good in the corners and can hit -- those are the type of players we need on this team."
-- Rick Tocchet on Steve Downie
On his first shift against the Flyers on Tuesday, Downie was looking to throw his body around early and often. He and Flyers captain Mike Richards even had a brief altercation just 1:58 into the game that immediately was broken up by the officials. He then scored his first goal 15:25 into the third to tie the game, 3-3. Richards eventually scored the overtime clincher in a 4-3 Flyers victory.
Lightning interim coach Rick Tocchet has liked what he's seen of Downie, awarding the 21-year-old forward with a season-high 10:43 of ice time against Philly. Downie then saw 11:34 of ice time in a 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins on Thursday. He has averaged 7:10 of ice time through 10 games.
"I really enjoy this kid," Tocchet said. "He has a lot of potential; he's kind of like a little spitfire. I heard his skating was a little suspect but I don't mind the skating; I think he will improve. We have a skating coach here and a good staff to work with him. He's good in the corners and can hit -- those are the type of players we need on this team."
Some say Downie's style even resembles Tocchet, who, in his prime, was as fiery a player as the League offered.
"If he likes to hit and likes to go to the net, then yeah, he's probably similar to the way I played because those areas are where I liked to go," Tocchet said. "With the new rules in place, getting in front of the net is where you want to be. If we get him on a good line, he could do some damage."
Ice chips -- Thrashers defenseman Niclas Havelid scored his first goal of the season in a 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 30 ... Thrashers defenseman Zach Bogosian, who suffered a broken bone in his lower left leg Oct. 28, has resumed skating on his own but hasn't practiced with the team. ... The Hurricanes activated defenseman Frantisek Kaberle from injured reserve Nov. 28. Kaberle has played in three games since missing 19 after suffering a fractured leg Oct. 17 against the Kings in Los Angeles. ... Despite injuries to regulars Alexander Semin (upper body/back injury), Mike Green (arm/shoulder), Sergei Fedorov (ankle), Chris Clark (stress fracture in forearm), Jeff Schultz (broken finger), John Erskine (concussion) and Tom Poti (groin), the Capitals keep chugging along. The defending Southeast Division champion leads the division with 14 wins and 31 points through 26 games. ... Hurricanes forward Chad LaRose has notched goals in three of team's last six games. ... Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester is plus-6 in his last three games, with a goal and 2 assists. ... Entering Saturday's game Atlanta has won only one game since Nov. 14, when it had a five-game win streak. ... On Thursday, the Hurricanes activated forward Justin Williams and defenseman Dennis Seidenberg (leg injury) was placed on injured reserve. Williams had missed the first 25 games of the season after undergoing surgery Sept. 18 to repair a torn right Achilles tendon. He saw 13:15 of ice time and registered two shots Thursday in a 5-2 loss to the Penguins. ... Lightning coach Rick Tocchet was given a nice standing ovation with just over 11 minutes remaining in the third period of his team's loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday when the former Flyer spoke to the Wachovia Center fans via the video scoreboard about his fondest memories of playing in the Spectrum.
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.