Canes' Maurice stays... for now

Changes may be on horizon

calexander@newsobserver.comNovember 18, 2011 

— When the Carolina Hurricanes announced early Thursday their practice would be held at noon at Raleigh Center Ice, there were no assurances Paul Maurice would still be the coach.

After the Canes' awful 4-0 loss Wednesday to the Montreal Canadiens, after losing six of the past seven games to sink to 14th place in the NHL's Eastern Conference, speculation was mounting general manager Jim Rutherford might make a change.

And not just with the head coach. There was talk a player or two might be traded.

But at noon, Maurice was on the ice. All of the players, except for injured defenseman Joni Pitkanen, were accounted for and there was a degree of normalcy at practice.

Earlier, Rutherford had said no major changes were planned - for now.

"That was a very bad game," he said of the loss in Montreal. "I'm looking at everything (but) no decisions have been made."

With the Hurricanes (6-10-3) set to face the Buffalo Sabres (11-7-0) today, a few personnel changes were made Thursday. Defenseman Justin Faulk was recalled from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL and forward Zac Dalpe reassigned to the Checkers.

Forward Anthony Stewart, a healthy scratch the past three games, will rejoin the Canes lineup. Stewart was used on Eric Staal's line with Chad LaRose in practice, although Maurice said Zach Boychuk also could see time on Staal's line tonight. As for a potential trade, Rutherford said that could be problematic.

"There's not anyone out there right now who's available," he said. "There might be some who become available. We'll see what we can do."

Second-year forward Jeff Skinner said the Canes need to take it upon themselves to turn things around, not rely on personnel moves to be made.

"The guys in this locker room have to figure out how to get a win," he said. "We can't be looking for outside help."

One thing everyone agreed on was that goaltender Cam Ward - or backup Brian Boucher, when he plays - needed more help. After Wednesday, the Hurricanes were 29th in the NHL in both goals against (3.47 a game) and shots against (33.1 a game.)

"We have to do a better job, everyone together, of being a five-man defensive group in our end to limit chances against," Staal said.

Ward had 37 saves in the Canes' 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday and several were sensational. But he was lifted in the second period Monday against the Philadelphia Flyers and struggled along with the rest of his team in Montreal. Maurice said he could sense frustration in Ward's game.

"It comes from Cam believing in his heart he can play the way he did against Pittsburgh every night," Maurice said. "That's not a realistic standard. ... We can't put him in that position but we've done it."

Ward, in turn, preferred to talk more about the Sabres game, about moving on. He said with such a busy November schedule, no one can dwell too long on any one game.

"As miserable as it was in Montreal, and there wasn't a lot of good to take from it, today's a new day and you've got to prepare yourself for Buffalo and work at just righting the ship," Ward said. "It's not as easy as it sounds but it's the way you've got to approach it. You've got to be strong mentally.

"The coaches have done everything they can to prepare us as players on what we need to do on the ice. We have to hold ourselves accountable for the way we perform on the ice."

Maurice, who is in the final year of his contract, has been fired before - by the Hurricanes in 2003 and the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008. He was asked how difficult it would be now in what might seem like a game-by-game referendum on his job.

"This is the grind that you learn to survive and deal with it as a man, deal with your players, rally your troops, have direct and honest conversations with players that need to have those, " Maurice said. "And make sure that when you're standing behind the bench you show that confidence in your team."

While Staal is the captain and the Canes have leaders in the room, Maurice said his is the voice that needed to be heard, and he needed to provide the leadership.

"It's not on them," Maurice said. "We want to play a far superior team game (and) I will ask them to individually prepare themselves. But this is now the time, in the most heat, that it's not on the captain, it's not on the players. It's on me."

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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