Ryan Craig

Maurice has Canes buying into new style

Posted January 7, 2009

Just weeks ago, the Carolina Hurricanes were on their way to another spring on the golf course and not the ice rink. It was at that point that the organization made a somewhat controversial mid-season coaching change, and with it changed the course of its season.

Now, with a four-game winning streak under its belt, it’s time to start paying attention to the 2009 edition of the Canes.

It would be unfair to blame all of the club’s inconsistent play on the now-departed Peter Laviolette. After all, it was under his watch that the Hurricanes won the 2006 Stanley Cup Championship, so the man must have done a thing or two right.

Sometimes, though, the coach’s message can grow stale, and a change must be made.

This year, injuries could be as much to blame as any other factor – Rod Brind’Amour, Justin Williams, Joni Pitkanen, Tim Gleason, and Scott Walker were just some of the important players to miss significant time while Laviolette was there.

It just so happens that upon their collective return to health, the team is playing its best hockey of the season – imagine that.

However, some credit must be given to Paul Maurice. In his second stint in Raleigh, Maurice has taken a roster built to succeed under a run-and-gun style, and instilled in its collective brain a system that at times sacrifices its own shot creating opportunities to prevent those of its opponents.

On Tuesday night, for instance the Canes out-Deviled the Devils.

Through two periods against New Jersey, when the game was still in doubt, Carolina had only allowed the visiting team 14 shots on goal and didn’t make a trip to the penalty box.

I have covered a number of Canes games this year, and the biggest difference to me in the team right now is that you know what you are going to get when you take your seat in the RBC Center these days.

Whether it was coaching, injuries, underperformance, or some combination of all three, the Canes of October and November were about as hit as miss as you could get. You got the sense that they could score or give up goals in bunches - sometimes both in a ten minute span.

Now the Hurricanes are a squad that back-checks with a passion (see Scott Walker’s play Tuesday night) and limits its opponents’ scoring chances while choosing its spots more carefully on the offensive end.

What impresses me even more, is that Joe Corvo, Joni Pitkanen and Anton Babchuk, three players Maurice mentioned as offensive-minded defensemen that have started to become accustomed to their roles in his system, have flourished, even while becoming more selective about pinching in the attacking zone to create scoring chances for themselves and others.

Brandon Sutter said to the media after the Devils game that the players are finally starting to become comfortable with their new coach.

That new coach admitted his team has played well, but that there’s still a “fourth gear” they can get to.

It’s true that fourth gear in Maurice’s metaphorical sports car might be slower than the team’s early season edition, but the newer model’s performance is undoubtedly better over the long haul.

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