In the last three weeks, as Carolina has continued their skid into disaster, nobody can honestly blame head coach Kirk Muller for a single thing. One could make the point that he’s been somewhat stagnant with regards to changing up the depth chart, but with all the injuries that the team has had to deal with, who could really be expected to maintain any sense of normalcy to the clipboard?
Outside of that, what has Muller really done or not done that could or shouldn’t be done? He wisely had Elias Lindholm sent down to the team’s AHL affiliate in Charlotte, bringing up defenseman Chris Terry in his place. Newcomer Manny Malhotra has fit in nicely despite early reservations, and Muller is using him to his abilities. The team has needed improvement on both the man advantage and penalty kill and have started to improve slightly.
With the Islanders crawling up in the standings and Carolina sliding down at maximum velocity, the importance for both teams is obvious. Long Island has only a one-point lead over their rivals over the bridge, the New York Rangers. Despite coming off of an absolute horsewhipping by the Washington Capitals, Long Island is still 3-3-0 on the road and could easily put some distance between them and New York in the Metropolitan Division standings.
On the other hand, here’s Carolina. While the NBC Sports Network commentators decided to launch into an obnoxious and uncalled-for mocking of the Hurricanes’ performance against the Philadelphia Flyers, a come-from-behind overtime victory bolstered spirits and brought with it an extra point in the standings.
Mike Milbury might have thought he was cute referring to the Hurricanes’ 5-on-3 opportunity as “the three stooges”, then begging the crew to break to “a more interesting game”, but Milbury is an idiot and missed many of the important points in that third period. Not to mention, his little rant was in spectacularly poor taste and disrespectful to fans of both teams.
Having scored the game-tying goal on the empty-net man advantage was crucial in showing that the team can come up huge in the clutch. While Justin Peters and Steve Mason both remained lights-out through close to three periods, the Hurricanes proved that they have learned the concept of momentum management. Merely weeks ago, Carolina would have deflated and folded after the stalemate was broken by Philadelphia. This shows major promise.
All of these things being considered, it comes right back to the start. What can Muller conceivably do? Nothing. Reports from Thursday morning’s skate have the top lines skating well and younger players looking strong. The arrival of Terry has created slight changes in the lines, but many solid pairings are remaining the same. Muller can do nothing more than have an excellent pre-game speech and keep the throttle down — the rest is up to the guys on the ice.