Since Nov. 11, the Carolina Hurricanes have played a game at least every other day. That stretch comes to a close tonight with the Pittsburgh Penguins in town; following tonight’s game, the Canes will have two days in between their next game in Calgary on Tuesday night.
Playing every other day gets the players into a certain rhythm, similar to the Stanley Cup Playoffs when there is often just one day in between each game. For new head coach Kirk Muller, playing every other day this week hasn’t given him much of a chance to get settled in.
“It would have been nice, to be honest with you, to have a few more practices,” he said. “If we did, we probably could have worked more on systems. I would really love to have more time on the power play.
“We knew that tonight’s game and the last couple were going to be more on getting the guys feeling good about themselves, getting them energized, get some fun, play hard and from there we can take the little parts of the game that we can just start pecking away at. In the same token, we need wins.”
After a couple of high-tempo practices on Wednesday and Friday, Muller gave the team the morning off today in advance of a 7:00 p.m. game time.
“I’m not that big of a fan of morning skates, anyways,” he said. “I think save it for the night.”
In such a grinding stretch that the Canes have been through in the last three weeks, a morning off might be just what the team needs to end their four-game regulation losing skid.
Since Nov. 11 when the Hurricanes started playing at least every other day, the team has gone 3-8-1. One of those wins came against the Penguins, a 5-3 victory at the RBC Center. Cam Ward
made 37 saves on 40 shots, and Eric Staal
scored the game-winning goal.
Staal is above a point-per-game player versus Pittsburgh, as he’s recorded 30 points (13g, 17a) in 28 games. In his last three games, Staal has recorded 4 points (1g, 3a) and is even in that stretch.
The Hurricanes spent practice yesterday going over more system tweaks and running special teams at either end of the ice. The Canes only had one power play opportunity on Thursday night, but Muller still recognized different aspects he wanted to adjust.
“I think it’s gradually happening right now,” Muller said of employing his ideas. “We’ve implemented a few different things on special teams. We’ve talked about a few things on our 5-on-5 systems. You’ll start to see some different looks [on our lines].
It can’t be overnight, so we have to gradually feed things in,” he said.
After tonight, the Hurricanes plan to have an off-day tomorrow before flying to Calgary on Monday, where they will practice mid-afternoon. They’ll spend the week in Canada during a four-game road trip, before returning to Raleigh for the next home game on Dec. 15.
When asked if an extended road trip is what the team needed, Muller smiled and said, “Yep.”
“A lot of these guys will see their families and get reassurance,” he said. “It’s a good time to get the guys out. It’s going to be a really good time for guys like John [MacLean] and I that are new to get out of the office to sit down with the guys and get to know them and the staff.
“I believe in real team bonding, and that will be what my big objective is – to really get to know these guys and jell.”ROSTER NOTES
Muller wouldn’t say with certainty who would start in net tonight for the Hurricanes, but Ward is the likely choice. Ward has started in 23 games this season, including seven games in a row coming into tonight. He started eight games in a row from the first of November until Brian Boucher
was in net against Buffalo on Nov. 18.Jay Harrison
continues to be day-to-day with his upper-body injury. He practiced with the team earlier in the week but did not skate yesterday.
Muller said Jamie McBain
has been held out of the lineup in the last two games to give some veteran defensemen a “clean slate.” He did not give any word as to who would be the healthy scratch on defense tonight.
“I told them, ‘Don’t go on the fact that I’m a new guy coming in and I’m judging your play from before,’” he said. “I’m just giving the veterans the first crack, and then we’ll make judgment calls from there.”