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Special Teams an Early Focus

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
After an opening few days of more general tactical drills, the Canes spent the majority of Wednesday’s practice working on special teams.  Expect more of the same in the regular season.

Paul Branecky
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Although they finished strongly in the regular season, both sides of the Canes’ special teams saw their share of ups and downs in 2008-09, in particular the power play, which had a better second half but faded in the playoffs. Along with the penalty kill, team defense and overall effort level, Head Coach Paul Maurice is making the power play one item in his “four-pronged attack” that the team will focus on throughout camp.

“[The power play] is something that we’re planning on working into our practices quite a bit more,” said Head Coach Paul Maurice. “Not to have a power play day, but to have each practice spend a little bit more time.”

Although Maurice said that mid-season changes to the coaching structure helped to stabilize the power play last season, the on-ice personnel that the team will use this season remain largely unaltered. The main grouping on Wedneday had Eric Staal, Ray Whitney and Tuomo Ruutu up front with Matt Cullen and Joe Corvo running the points. A second unit saw Rod Brind’Amour, Sergei Samsonov and Erik Cole at forward with Aaron Ward and Andrew Alberts on defense. Injured Finns Jussi Jokinen and Joni Pitkanen could have also factored in if healthy.

On the other side of the equation, each of the team’s offseason acquisitions are accomplished penalty killers, which will give that unit a new look. Maurice said that would take some pressure off team’s scoring threats to fill those roles, leaving them fresher for offensive situations.

”To get a little deeper on the penalty kill we may be able to back some more of our power play minded guys off on the PK,” said Maurice, who plans to use Stephane Yelle, Tom Kostopoulos, Andrew Alberts and Aaron Ward in shorthanded situations. “At the same time, we are talking about putting our best players on special teams, and I think we are deep enough to run four lines at five-on-five and really drive the pace of our game.”

That last point would be a change in how Maurice utilized his lines last season, with his fourth group of forwards rarely breaking the 10-minute mark of ice time. Often, that figure was closer to five minutes as the team used more of a three-line rotation.

Although it was technically the Group A veteran’s skate that hit the ice at 10 a.m., a number of players from Group B joined so that there could be three full working groups for power play practice.  Among those were forwards Zach Boychuk, Drayson Bowman and Brandon Sutter and defensemen Jamie McBain and Bryan Rodney.

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