Canes playing for next season in remaining games
Posted April 4, 2012
Being eliminated from the playoffs before the last regular season game has been played is one of the worst feelings a professional athlete can have.
The Carolina Hurricanes felt that pain Friday, when former Cane Andrew Ladd scored 16 seconds into overtime in a 4-3 Winnipeg Jets victory.
The loss was followed by one of the team’s worst games of the season, a 5-0 shellacking at the hands of the New Jersey Devils and left three games left on the schedule.
Carolina showed they aren’t waving the white flag on the season in a strong 2-1 victory over playoff bound Ottawa Tuesday night. The Senators were playing to improve their playoff standing, but it was the Canes who played like there was something on the line.
Muller makes the most of remaining games
If you ask head coach Kirk Muller, there is plenty to squeeze out of the games remaining. “What I want to see is guys fight through this and have pride, finishing up the right way so we at least feel good about a lot of things about where we're at,” Muller said.
The Canes were a long shot to make the playoffs heading into March, even after a tremendous February. Carolina had dug such a huge hole for themselves that just to make a run at the postseason was an accomplishment.
In the final week of the season, the team’s challenge is manufacturing the intensity to get up for a game when they know the end is near.
Muller has been stressing positives and points out that now isn’t the time to fall back on bad habits. "What is important is how we approach these games,” he said. “I think we have done a lot of positive things here, and we want to finish on a good note."
Since being named head coach in November, Muller has tried to instill an identity and work ethic for the organization to build on for the future.
"We're always being judged every day in this business, but it is more than just what we are about,” he said. “It is the way you play the game that we are looking at. The easy thing to do is not to play at our capabilities and get through the week.”
Muller has held team leaders to a standard that the rest of the club has no choice but to follow. He put the onus on captain Eric Staal to be the Canes best player, not just on game night but in practice. The mantra that the coaching staff has used is "accountability," and it is something that Staal and alternate captains Tim Gleason and Brandon Sutter know has to be present in the final games of the season.
Staal has had a resurgence after a one of the slowest starts of his career. Since January 1, Staal has taken over the team lead in points and is tied for fifth in the NHL in scoring with 44 points. Peel that back a little further and see that he has 49 points (17 goals, 32 assists) in his last 41 games.
Team leaders build for next season
The captain understands that there can be no months off in the NHL and that the Canes need to finish strong to build a healthy base for next season.
"The key is making sure that we come to work and compete every night. We are trying to build an identity and a culture here that won't put us in this position in the future," Staal said.
What does winning out down the stretch mean for a player who has never participated in the NHL postseason like Brandon Sutter? It is a responsibility to be better in everything the Canes do. "It's kind of setting the bar for next year, that's what we are focusing on right now," Sutter said.
Sitting at home is not what Sutter wants this time of year and looking at the standings and knowing there is no chance to move up is difficult to swallow.
"It's kind of tough this time of year, you want to be in the top eight obviously, but we have to do what we can to try and change our mindset around here, and we are trying to change into a winning team,” Sutter said. “We gotta try to finish strong and set the bar for where we are going to start next season."
For Tim Gleason, work ethic has been what has gotten him to this level. "It's just a mindset,” Gleason said. “It's a tough thing to be out of it, but at the same time you have to show up to work and do your job and do it as hard as you can."
The Hurricanes still have a job to do, and how well they finish this year could lead to not having to work as hard down the stretch next year to be in the top eight.