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Physicality, Winning Battles the Focus of Practice

by Michael Smith / Carolina Hurricanes
It was a tale of two cities for the Carolina Hurricanes this weekend.

Michael Smith
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On Friday, the team put forth arguably its most consistent, complete game of the season in a 4-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres. A night later in Nashville, that competitive edge was missing in a 5-2 loss to the Predators.

One of the biggest missing components on Saturday night was the Canes’ physical display. The team recorded 25 hits against Buffalo and only nine against Nashville. After a planned day off, the Canes this morning put in one of their most physical practices of the season.

“I think our practices have been going in that direction,” said defenseman Jay Harrison, who had the Canes’ two goals on Saturday. “It’s something that we want to focus on.”

“The message is that when we compete hard, we get certain results,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “We’ve got to do it consistently. It can’t depend on what opponent we play against or where we play.”

While the Hurricanes seemed to win a majority of their one-on-one battles against Buffalo, Nashville held the edge a night later. Harrison explained that winning these battles isn’t just about physicality.

“There are definitely two components to it, for sure,” he said. “There’s the physical aspect of it where you have to put in the effort. And the mental part is the willingness to go in there for every battle and not get fatigued over the course of 60 minutes.

“It can be a punishing a game. That’s why you talk about finishing your checks on every play because it wears teams down. It’s the guys who are mentally tough that will still do the job and the hard things that need to be done in the last five minutes or even 20 minutes.”

After the Buffalo game, Muller said that the team had no “passengers,” as every player factored in, in some way. A night later, however, Muller said they had a few passengers.

“We win together and lose together,” he said. “We want to be a hard team to play against, and we’re not good enough to go out and have some guys not ready to play. As a player, you can’t control your ice time or who you play with, but one thing you’ve got to bring every night is competitive edge.”

Despite the team’s misfire against Nashville, Muller isn’t dwelling on that game. For the team to improve, they must focus on what they did right on Friday and work on replicating that.

“We did so many good things against Buffalo. I don’t want to not look at those areas of that game,” he said. “I thought we had a great game. Everyone was involved. There was energy, it was a high-tempo game and we’ve got to do that every night.”

“When you’re a half-a-step behind, you can’t get on the body,” Harrison said. “It’s kind of a cascading effect. Games that we have a lot of opportunities and chances, we have a lot of hits.”

Emphasizing what the team did right against Buffalo, Muller conducted drills that focused on speed and winning battles. At one point, Tim Gleason rammed Brett Sutter into the boards. Later, Chad LaRose went careening into the side of the net. He left practice early, and Muller had not received word on his condition after practice. With all the contact, Jeff Skinner – still in a yellow jersey – had to ideally sit by and watch. Muller said he is “getting closer” but will obviously not play tomorrow against Philadelphia.

Harrison said that yesterday’s day off helped the team come into the room ready to get back to work today after a deflating loss. It also helped keep the energy level high throughout the hour long session.

“I think it’s part of our identity that we’re trying to establish in coming out with that consistent effort and believing in our game,” he said.

On the most basic level, that’s what the Hurricanes will look to do tomorrow night against a Philadelphia team that won’t hold back on a quick, body-pounding game.

“If you lose, you’ve got to lose because you played hard and came up short, not because you didn’t put the right effort in that night,” Muller said. “That’s where we’ve got to keep pushing each other.”

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