The Carolina Hurricanes need something to bounce their way. There’s no way to talk around that. The team just hasn’t been catching the breaks, and they need to do something to find those breaks.
The mistake made last year was accepting these bad breaks and just keeping on keeping on, hoping the puck would bounce their way eventually. Missing the NHL Playoffs proves how well this strategy worked out for the Hurricanes.
Right now, the team is in the same situation. Save for the home victory against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Hurricanes have two losses on the sheet. Neither of these losses, however, were for lack of hustle or talent. The team, for the most part, was getting the job done. Things just didn’t bounce the way they needed it to.
The roads in the forest are diverging for head coach Kirk Muller, and he has two simple choices. Wait it out or shake things up and start trying something, anything, to kick start the team and cut down on these tough breaks that put Ls on the stat sheet.
Heading into tonight’s contest with the Metropolitan Division rival Washington Capitals, Muller has a handful of screws he can turn. Conventional wisdom says not to turn them all at once. However, he has the option to play with either the defensive pairings or his forechecking policy. Either one will do nicely.
Defense is letting the Hurricanes down. Tim Gleason being injured or not has no bearing on this. The defensemen need to allow less shots on goal, less time in the zone for opponents, and a stronger presence at the point. With Justin Faulk under-performing and Andrej Sekera needing to over-perform, it comes down to finding better pairings to suit the individual defenseman’s skills and abilities.
Muller’s other choice would be to maintain a stronger forecheck in the Hurricanes’ defensive zone. Allowing Washington to act with impunity and have their way on the attack will backfire in a hurry. Bringing the forwards down lower and allowing the defense to cover the high shot will pay off in spades against a team like Washington.
To his credit, Muller has already decided to start backup goalie Anton Khudobin instead of regular starter Cam Ward. Questions as to Ward’s level of recovery from last year’s injury have been brought up, but the flurry of highlight reel saves against Pittsburgh will refute that theory. Ward’s problem is that the defense is letting him down. Khudobin’s win this season came against Philadelphia, who were in such disarray at that point that they fired their coach the next morning. Muller knows what he’s doing, and allowing a litmus test against Washington this early in the season is a smart move.
Also seeing changes will be the fourth line. Muller has turned in a card with rookie Elias Lindholm paired up with Brett Sutter and Drayson Bowman. This line has potential to be a game changer and should they succeed, the only thing holding them back from being branded the Young Guns Line would be deciding who gets to be Lou Diamond Phillips.
Playing the backup goalie is a nice start, however, merely changing the fourth line and not addressing the defense might turn out to be a mistake. It’s still early enough in the season for Muller to get away with being practical and deliberate. However, a loss in Washington would have fans in Raleigh starting to squirm in their seats, wondering what’s wrong.
In the end, with Washington struggling in regulation, the Hurricanes need only to come out of the gates swinging and not relinquish the momentum. Securing this win will buy Muller some time to continue his experimentation.