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Maurice wants 'Canes to sharpen up defensive game

Monday, 05.25.2009 / 4:12 PM / Conference Finals: Pittsburgh vs. Carolina

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

"I don't think the crux of our game has been a lack of offense or that we should go out and score seven a night if everybody's playing well. I think we're getting enough offense in our games, but we're just not defending well enough to look at our offensive players. That being said, our offensive players have to defend as well."
-- Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice

RALEIGH, N.C. - The Carolina Hurricanes were back on the ice at RBC Center Monday morning after licking their wounds from a Game 3 setback that has them in an 0-3 hole against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The 'Canes will look to keep their season alive with a Game 4 triumph on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS).

Carolina forwards Tuomo Ruutu, Erik Cole and Scott Walker did not participate in the Monday skate. Ruutu is the only player of the bunch likely to be a game-time decision.

"We expect them all in, but Ruutu seems more of a day-to-day while the other two are fine," coach Paul Maurice said. "’Rootie’ just came back (for Game 3) and I didn't use him a whole lot because I know what he likes to do. He likes to bang and hit and get in on the forecheck, so if he feels strong enough and he thinks he'll be able to do that, then we'll consider him. If not, we'll have to see."

Against the Penguins, the 'Canes are averaging 2.66 goals and yielding a hefty 5.33 -- not the ratio Maurice is looking for in the playoffs.

"I don't think the crux of our game has been a lack of offense or that we should go out and score seven a night if everybody's playing well," Maurice said.  "I think we're getting enough offense in our games, but we're just not defending well enough to look at our offensive players. That being said, our offensive players have to defend as well."

Maurice's point is well taken when you consider the fact any measure of success his team has had in the postseason is in direct correlation to close, tight-checking games. Through the first 14 games and opening two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Hurricanes' average margin of victory was 0.07 (2.35-2.28).

"We obviously don't want to be giving up 6-7 goals a game, but good defense leads to good offense, so as forwards, the defense for us starts on our forecheck," Hurricanes wing Chad LaRose said. “We need to get in there and create opportunities so they don't have the puck all the time."

Eric Staal realizes the importance of establishing an effective back check in order to earn offensive chances. While Staal has been held scoreless in six-straight games, he's still averaging four shots on goal in each of those games.

Staal admitted it has been frustrating.

"I want to create offense and I think sometimes for me, when I'm focused in on that too much, it takes away from my game in general," Staal told NHL.com. "I have to get back to playing simple - being solid on the back check. When you're working hard at that, good things will happen the other way and the natural instincts kind of take over."

It goes without saying that the Hurricanes have little hope of surviving of high-scoring games with the Penguins. The Pens are an offensive machine and have proven that in the postseason -- outshooting their opponent in 14 of 16 playoff games, including 12 straight.

"They have the big game breakers in (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin and we just haven't played our style," Carolina defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. "We can't get sucked into their style as we have been the last three games. Our defense wasn't solid enough or tight enough in the last games and we really have to play like we played the first two rounds. Those were tight games."

The only problem is the Penguins appear to be far more dangerous on offense than the New Jersey Devils or the Boston Bruins
 
 
"(Pittsburgh) is a lot faster; they have two guys flying out of the zone instead of coming from underneath the puck and there's more speed up front than in the last two series," Staal said. "For us, it's just a matter of doing a better job on that back pressure and having two forwards go in on the forecheck extremely hard in order to make it difficult on them. That will help our defense as far as gaps and, if we do turn it over, we need to turn it around and go the other way."

Maurice believes the system he has instilled is effective. His players just need to do a better job at making it work.

"Our neutral zone play is actually more defensive than the trap when it's done well, in my opinion," Maurice said. "We run a little bit more of an aggressive forecheck, but not any less or more aggressive than Pittsburgh. You can't chase this team back to your end of the ice and expect something. That only takes away time and space that we need. It all has to be a lot more easily sorted back to the zone coverage. I believe we can pull back and wait on this team because they're coming to get you."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.

Quote of the Day

I came into a team that had 65 points, that was at the bottom of the basement, a team that everybody wrote off as never going to be good. My goal is to go from the very bottom to the very top.

— Forward Brandon Dubinsky on signing a six-year contract extension with the Columbus Blue Jackets