On Tuesday, Nov. 29, Kirk Muller was behind the bench for his first game as a head coach in the National Hockey League, facing a team with which he spent three years in the late 90s – the Florida Panthers. Nearly three weeks later, Muller’s Carolina Hurricanes will size up the Cats once more in an early Sunday evening match-up in South Florida.
|Michael Smith |
Since Muller’s coaching debut – a 3-1 loss – the Canes have evolved roster-wise and in their style of play. In the last two games, the team has put forth a full 60-minutes worth of the type of game Muller wants to play.
“Five or six games ago, I didn’t think we could sustain the tempo,” he said. “We had parts of the game when we were going, and then we died off. We were a little fragile.”
In the last two games especially, the team has been anything but fragile. Against Vancouver on Thursday, the Canes climbed back after falling down 2-0 to win 4-3. It was their first win of the season when tied after two periods.
“As I said to them, ‘Don’t worry if you’re up two or down two – keep at it,’” Muller said. “We didn’t have a lull against Toronto or Vancouver, and that’s what we’re looking for – consistency and accountability of staying with the game plan.”
Perhaps what has helped the team sustain that tempo in-game is the way Muller and his coaching staff run practices. Muller’s practices are conducted with the pace of a game, which has helped the team become better passers, read situations more effectively and become better prepared for opponents.
Today in practice, in addition to running power play drills and board scrums, there was a focus on the Canes’ transitional game.
“We’re playing better without the puck. It’s not perfect, but we’re getting there,” Muller said. “So now it’s when we get [the puck], let’s take advantage of it. Let’s be the quick team that goes.”
The Canes will run into that tomorrow evening, against a speedy Panthers team that currently leads the Southeast Division with 40 points (17-9-6). Their top line of Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann has combined for 94 points (38g, 56a). That line had a goal and an assist against the Canes on Nov. 29.
“They can skate. It’s a high-tempo team,” Muller said of the Panthers. “They come after you, and if you’re not ready, they’re going to have the edge on you. The first game that I was here, I saw that. And that’s what we have to be prepared for. They like a quick game.”
Even though there is currently only one team (Florida) from the division above the playoff line in the East, the Canes have just one win in eight games against divisional opponents this season. The Canes would like to change that, and a win tomorrow would give the team its first winning streak since Nov. 21. The key? Muller said to look no further than Thursday’s game.
“Everyone has to bring something,” Muller said. “You can’t just go out, jump over the boards and play the game.
getting involved. Ward playing the way he did. Ruutu picking it up and being more aggressive. Staalsy is still playing consistency. Bowman is a young kid, takes advantage of his opportunity. That’s, to me, people finding a way to win. And that’s what I was most happy about.”ODDS AND ENDSJay Harrison
skated with the team again today. He’s missed the last 10 games with an upper-body injury. Muller said he and the staff would decide tomorrow if he’s ready to enter the lineup. The Canes could dress seven defensemen if that is the case.Cam Ward
donned new Vaughn equipment at the morning skate on Thursday. Today, he continued breaking it in and said he still needs a few more practice sessions before it’s game-ready. A picture of his new gear is below.