The Carolina Hurricanes came into the month of November looking to establish a consistent game – especially with 10 of 15 games at the RBC Center – and work their way into playoff position.
However, two multi-game losing streaks and wildly erratic play dug the Canes into a hole and forced change behind the bench, as Kirk Muller became the new head coach of the team on Monday.
A day later, the Hurricanes dropped their third game in a row to finish November with just four wins in 15 games. The best thing for the team to do at this point is to turn the page on what was a disappointing month and look ahead toward the balance of the season.
“No, it certainly hasn’t [been a good month],” Cam Ward
said. “It hasn’t been a whole lot of fun around here, but you’ve got to do your best to remain positive.”
|DATE ||OPPONENT ||RESULT |
|NOV. 1 ||vs. TAMPA BAY ||4-2 W |
|NOV. 4 ||vs. WASHINGTON ||5-1 L |
|NOV. 6 ||vs. DALLAS ||5-2 L |
|NOV. 8 ||at NEW JERSEY ||3-2 L |
|NOV. 11 ||at NY RANGERS ||5-1 L |
|NOV. 12 ||vs. PITTSBURGH ||5-3 W |
|NOV. 14 ||vs. PHILADELPHIA ||5-3 L |
|NOV. 16 ||at MONTREAL ||4-0 L |
|NOV. 18 ||vs. BUFFALO ||1-0 L |
|NOV. 20 ||vs. TORONTO ||3-2 W |
|NOV. 21 ||at PHILADELPHIA ||4-2 W |
|NOV. 23 ||vs. MONTREAL ||4-3 SOL |
|NOV. 25 ||vs. WINNIPEG ||3-1 L |
|NOV. 27 ||at OTTAWA ||4-3 L |
|NOV. 29 ||vs. FLORIDA ||3-1 L |
Positive is the message that Muller has been preaching in his first few days as head coach. It’s a tough sell amid the current standing of the team and all that has happened this week, but it’s one that the players are buying into as they look to get back in the win column.
“There’s no use in us looking back now. There’s nothing we can do about that,” said Jim Rutherford, President and General Manager of the Hurricanes. “We’ve dug ourselves a hole, and the obvious is that we have to put a string of games together to get back to .500. And then once we get there, we have to set a goal to finish 10-12 games above .500 to give us a chance to make the playoffs.”Digging a Hole
The Hurricanes emerged from October playing .500 hockey, something they weren’t happy with but would certainly take at this point when looking back on November. At the time, Rutherford said the team had positioned itself well to move up in the standings. Then-head coach Paul Maurice noted that the Canes had been in nearly every game going into the third period. And the team believed they were playing well and was focused on putting together a full 60 minutes.
For whatever reason, things took a downturn in November. The 4-0 loss in Montreal on the 16th was what Maurice called “rock bottom.” After that game, the team responded with three straight games of good effort, two of which they won. After that, though, the inconsistency crept back into their game.
Presently, Muller has the team focused on the basics – putting forth 60 minutes worth of his up-tempo style of play. It’s something he said the team struggled with on Tuesday against Florida but will begin to come together as he settles in.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do and we’ve got a lot of things to work on, but we’ve got to find ways in the mean time to get some wins,” he said.
“The sooner we can dig ourselves out of the hole and get back to .500, it gives us a reasonable chance to get in the race,” Rutherford said.New Face(s) and More Coming?
In another effort to shake things up, the Hurricanes picked up winger Andreas Nodl
off waivers on Tuesday. Nodl, who scored 11 goals with Philadelphia last season, hasn’t seen much ice time for them this year, but Rutherford sees the possibility of a consistent forward.
“He’s a guy that, when we look at our reports, we’ve had good reports on him for the last few years,” he said. “We see him as, at a minimum, a real good fourth line player, but a guy that has the skill level and upside that could get him into our top nine if the situation presents itself.”
The 24-year-old, Austrian-born winger brings speed and versatility to the table, as he can play both the right and left side. As a second-round pick, he also displays potential offensive upside.
“He’s not a player that’s a team-changer but certainly a player that can help us,” Rutherford said.
Finding that team-changer is difficult, especially considering the budget and what the Hurricanes would have to give up in order to receive. But Rutherford is constantly exploring options, and the steady play of a 19-year-old defenseman has opened the door for more moves to happen.Faulk “Re-Shapes” DefenseJustin Faulk
skated in just three games for the Canes in October, the team’s first three of the season. He was then scratched before being assigned to Charlotte later in the month. He played in 12 games with the Checkers, totaling four goals and two assists (6 points). At the time of his recall on Nov. 17, Faulk led Charlotte defenseman in goals and points.
Though he hasn’t seen the same offensive success in Raleigh, he’s been called upon heavily and has played over 20 minutes in seven straight games, the most being 26:15 against Montreal on Nov. 23.
“The biggest positive to me was to see Faulk come in and play the way he played,” Rutherford said. “To play those kinds of minutes for a 19-year-old defenseman, you don’t see that very often.”
Faulk’s minutes haven’t been limited to just even-strength, either. He’s been positioned on the point on the power play and has been on the ice to kill penalties, as well. The coaching staff and front office’s confidence in the young, U.S.-born defenseman gives the team more options to acquire a forward via trade.
“Because of [Faulk’s play], that kind of re-shapes our defense, and certainly makes a defenseman or two expendable,” Rutherford said. “That’s really what we’re looking at now, seeing if we can move a defenseman for a forward.
“In the ideal world, it’d be a top six guy. That’s pretty hard to find now, but certainly a top nine guy.”Looking Ahead to December
Fortunately for the Hurricanes, there is still plenty of hockey left to play. Though they sit at 14th in the Eastern Conference, they are just six points out of a playoff spot. They have played the most games in the league, but all they can worry about is what they can control – that starts with stringing wins together.
“We just have to get back to having a good team feeling, and the thing that does that is a few wins,” Rutherford said.
Though not as home-heavy as the November schedule, December offers up 14 games, seven of which are at home. A four-game road trip to Canada that will feature games in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto highlights the first half of the month. Rarely seen Western Conference opponents in the Vancouver Canucks and Phoenix Coyotes will appear in Raleigh in the latter half of December.
Ideally, by the end of this calendar year, the Canes will be back over .500 and looking to move into a playoff spot. But, Muller is taking it day-by-day, making tweaks to what he can whenever time allows.
“We need wins,” he said. “We just need to get a little better in every category right now, and we’ve got to chip away in doing that. But we want to pick up points at the same time.”November record:
4-10-1, 9 pointsOverall record:
8-14-4, 20 points, 5th in Southeast Division, 14th in Eastern Conference (For full standings, click here