A month into Kirk Muller’s tenure as coach of the Carolina Hurricanes, his players have reached the point where they’re no longer trying to grasp the changes Muller has made. Those have been internalized now. The hesitation on the ice is gone.
“You certainly feel like you know what you’re doing now,” Sutter said. “The first three or four games, there were a lot of gray areas. We were kind of hesitant and stuff like that. Now we’re kind of settled into how we want to play and what we’re supposed to do. We’re a little more comfortable around here and guys are starting to find it a little easier. It takes time.”
But in a sense, that’s the easy part. The problem, as it was under Paul Maurice, remains execution. In practice Wednesday, the Hurricanes worked on offensive play with no goalie in the net. Carolina forwards missed the net on five of their first six tries.
“The main nuts and bolts of the game are instilled right now,” Muller said. “You always continue to add little things -- faceoffs today, and all that. There are a lot of things that we missed, that we probably would have incorporated in training camp.”
Under Muller, the Hurricanes have been slightly more competitive, statistically speaking. Scoring is up, from 2.40 goals per game under Maurice to 2.95 under Muller. Goals allowed are up as well, but by a smaller margin, from 3.24 goals per game to 3.38.
The power play is improved, from 12.2 percent to 14.6 percent despite the current 0-for-15 skid, although the penalty-kill has declined from 79.6 percent to 73.3 percent.
In the most important category, points in the standings, the Hurricanes have actually performed slightly worse under Muller, at .77 points per game (4-7-2) compared to .80 points per game (8-13-4) under Maurice.
Of course, you don’t have to look far for signs of optimism despite Tuesday’s defeat in Pittsburgh. Throw out the four-game losing streak to begin Muller’s tenure, and the Hurricanes are 4-3-2 in their past nine, 1.11 points per game -- a 91-point pace extended over a full season.
And offense is up under Muller despite the prolonged absence of Jeff Skinner, by far Carolina’s best offensive player before he was injured, and Joni Pitkanen, by far Carolina’s best defenseman before he was injured.
If anything, the welcome change in coaches has highlighted how staid and stale the Carolina roster had become over the past two-and-a-half seasons, because enthusiasm isn’t an issue with Muller in charge.
In theory, the growing pains are over for this team, at least as far as the changes in systems and philosophies go. Now, it’s up to the players to execute.