Muller starts clean slate

New coach has a lot to prove

calexander@newsobserver.comNovember 30, 2011 

— There wasn't a lot of time for introductions Tuesday morning at the RBC Center.

Kirk Muller, the Carolina Hurricanes' new coach, had a few quick words with the players before heading out on the ice for the morning skate. There was a game to prepare for, against the Florida Panthers, but some first impressions were made.

"We've got a good young group here and I said to them it's a clean slate," Muller said.

Muller had a little more to say to team captain Eric Staal. He did it after the skate, at center ice.

"I just said to him, 'I don't need you to be Superman,' " Muller said. "I told him, 'I just want you to go out here tonight and be my hardest-working player. Just play hard, have fun, enjoy the game.' "

Enjoying the games and having fun has been hard for Staal and the players of late. And there was a somber mood as they talked about the firing of coach Paul Maurice Monday, who was popular with the players.

Staal, for one, said had he gotten off to a stronger start this season Maurice's departure may not have been necessary.

"Naturally you're going to feel that," Staal said. "If things are different and I'm 20 goals into a season and we're five games above .500, then we're in a totally different situation. But we're not and I'm not."

Defenseman Bryan Allen was more blunt about Maurice's firing.

"He took the fall for everyone," Allen said. "At the end of the day, it's the players in here who let him down."

Muller, who has not been a coach in the NHL, must earn the players respect, just as they must earn his. They know of his long NHL career as a player, as an assistant coach for the Montreal Canadiens, but this is new for everyone - coach and players.

"He knows the game and I'm excited to work with him," said second-year forward Jeff Skinner, the Calder Trophy winner last season. "It gives up a chance to regroup here and get back on track. He's been through probably everything you can go through, so it should be good."

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