Canadian road trip timely for Canes

Muller says Hurricanes, losers of six straight, will have time to 'jell'

calexander@newsobserver.comDecember 5, 2011 

— Kirk Muller is ready to get out of town. Not that he has any choice.

After losing his first three games as coach of the Carolina Hurricanes, all at home, Muller and the Canes head out today on a needed four-game road trip through Canada.

"A lot of these guys will see their families and get some reassurance and comfort and all that," Muller said. "But it's always good games up there. It's a good time to get the guys out."

For Muller and new assistant coach John MacLean, it will be a chance to get away from Raleigh, to learn more about the players.

"We can get out of the office and get out here and sit down with the guys and get to know them," Muller said. "I believe in a real team bonding and that will be my big objective, to really get to know these guys ... and just jell."

The Hurricanes (8-16-4) are winless in their past six games after a 3-2 loss Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. They battled hard against the Eastern Conference leaders and had their chances to force overtime on a late power play, but again came up short.

"It's frustrating to lose," forward Jeff Skinner said. "It's tough to stay positive, but at the same time you've got to try to find the positives."

The Canes will open the trip with back-to-back games in Alberta, Canada. Carolina faces the Calgary Flames on Tuesday, then the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday.

After a game Friday in Winnipeg against the Jets, the Canes have a day off, then two practice days in Toronto before they play the Maple Leafs. On Sunday, they will be at Ramsden Rink in Toronto for an outdoor practice, which could be a refreshing change.

That's nine days on the road. The Hurricanes' next home game is Dec. 15, when they host the Vancouver Canucks.

"We can take it as another opportunity to sort of get away from here and be around the guys, be together and get that good feeling back," Skinner said.

On Friday, Muller described the Canes as "a little bit of a fragile team." It was a team, he said, that was letting a few bad breaks or goals be too deflating.

Against the Pens, the Canes came out flying in the first period, and only a standout effort in goal by Pittsburgh's Brent Johnson kept the Canes from grabbing the lead. The Pens took a 1-0 lead in the second on a goal by Craig Adams, but the Canes answered with the first of two goals by defenseman Jamie McBain late in the period.

Pittsburgh appeared to break it open with third-period goals by Arron Asham and Pascal Dupuis, but McBain scored again and the Pens were holding on at the end.

The Hurricanes had a 5-on-3 power play in the final two minutes and pulled goalie Brian Boucher for a sixth attacker.

Carolina had five shots on goal and another two blocked, with Jussi Jokinen just missing on a shot that would have tied the score with 17 seconds left in regulation.

Muller elected to put seven defensemen in the lineup and make center Tim Brent a healthy scratch. Eric Staal double shifted at center, getting 26 minutes, 57 seconds in ice time - his most since skating for 29:43 against the Buffalo Sabres in March 2008.

"We don't play for a few days so I told him to empty the tank," Muller said.

Boucher was a surprise starter in goal but closed with 37 saves. Muller decided to rest Cam Ward with the idea of playing Ward - who grew up in Sherwood Park, Alberta - in front of his homefolk in Western Canada.

Muller was named coach a week ago today and it has been a whirlwind. He's still after that first victory as an NHL head coach, but believes his team is coming off a game that can be used as a springboard, even in defeat.

"I'm quite happy to take that game, that effort, and take it on the road in Canada," Muller said.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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