While the Carolina Hurricanes are on a nice streak to start the new year off, it bears mentioning they have won both games in the current streak in overtime.
Prior to this streak they were mired in what GM and team liability Jim Rutherford called a “slide.” This was putting it mildly as the Hurricanes seemed like they couldn’t put a win together with duct tape. Rutherford’s promise to pull the team out of this “slide” followed by two statement trades brought slight hope to the fanbase. The two-game winning streak and accompanying standings push helped more.
There’s one problem with all of this. The Hurricanes are a really good hockey team. When they’ve gone on streaks they can humiliate opponents and bring down some of the biggest teams in the league. Why then have they spaced these runs out with festivals of epic failure? A team with All-Stars and Olympians like Eric Staal, Cam Ward, Jeff Skinner, Alexander Semin, and Jordan Staal should not struggle like this. Just those five guys alone could make up a core of a Stanley Cup team. Some actually have.
With big stars alongside overlooked talent like Manny Malhotra and Nathan Gerbe, why aren’t the Hurricanes challenging — or even leading — the Metropolitan Division?
The answer is probably a very unpopular opinion, but it’s entirely possible they are being poorly coached.
Head coach Kirk Muller has the goods to be a really great coach. However, watching the Hurricanes will reveal a treasure trove of mistakes and poor judgement. While the team’s plus/minus suffers badly, we see players setting up defenses they were not built for. Often you will see Carolina’s back end set up in a triangle defense — which is a completely valid defense — however when it doesn’t pay off, how come they keep running it?
The offensive zone is an issue as well. How many passes need to sail across the top of the crease before Muller decides it may be a good idea to stick someone in front of the net? It’s the formation du jour these days, and Muller has gone ahead and ignored it. There’s no reason Gerbe or someone like Riley Nash can’t set up shop in the slot now and then for the all-important redirects and tip-ins. An inordinate number of passes to the point are drifting out of the zone and offsides. Why is this not being addressed and fixed?
These are issues you’d expect from a team of bums, but Carolina is far from a team of bums. They have incredible talent, especially with the addition of John-Michael Liles on defense. Yes, the Hurricanes are doing somewhat well. Is it anywhere near their potential? Absolutely not.
When a great team isn’t performing consistently well, ‘the coach’ should be on the list of things to take a look at. When Rutherford promised to shake things up, was Muller included in the shaking? His record of a streak here and a streak there has spanned two seasons now, and that is way too long. There are few things in the sport that are sadder than wasted talent. Why is Muller allowed to waste talent?
It’s not to say Muller is a rotten coach; he isn’t. His methods just seem to not be working consistently. If the addition of a different assistant coach would help — or even a major Herb Brooks style paradigm shift — it needs to be done. The Hurricanes are not winning consistently, and with the talent on the ice, Muller has a little explaining to do.