Canes power-play struggles continue

calexander@newsobserver.comNovember 10, 2013 

— As Carolina Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller sees it, the less said about the power play the better.

He’d rather talk about goalie Cam Ward, who has not played since suffering a lower-body injury Oct. 24 but was back at practice Sunday. He’d rather talk about the improved play of his defensive corps or the strong team effort Saturday in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild.

It’s not that Muller is trying to dodge questions about the lack of productivity on the power play, but he said nearly every team in the NHL has shortcomings and problem areas, and the power play happens to be one of the Canes’ for now.

“We’re building this team over 82 games (and) you’ve got to find ways to get better in your game everywhere,” Muller said. “Everyone has their little situations or dilemmas that they’re not happy about. Some teams right now are solely winning on special teams and goaltending, and five-on-five play is not that great. I think our 5-on-5 play right now is doing really well and we need to work on our power play.

“I don’t want this to be this monster where we’re all talking about the power play not doing well … where it disrupts the confidence of our 5-on-5 play. We’ll work on it and we’ve got to keep guys confident.”

The Hurricanes (6-7-4) got even-strength goals from Ryan Murphy and Jiri Tlusty on Saturday against the Wild and had a chance to win in overtime with a four-on-three power play.

Compounding the power-play issue was that a delayed penalty against the Wild was called. The Canes continued with a five-on-four advantage for about 40 seconds rather than allowing the Wild to gain possession and preserve more time for the four-on-three.

Muller said the coaches were yelling for the Canes to give up the puck to no avail.

“The right play was to give it to them and have closer to a two-minute power play,” Muller said.

Muller then brought in center Manny Malhotra for the draw to begin the power play with 1 minute, 7 seconds left in overtime. Malhotra won the faceoff, then he immediately skated to the bench as Nathan Gerbe jumped over the boards. But there appeared to be some confusion and Eric Staal’s pass toward Gerbe sailed out of the zone, using up more time.

“When you’re at home, and you’ve got some guys who are pressing, and it’s a 2-2 hockey game, we’re making improper decisions, really,” Muller said. “I think what we have to do is just simplify and shoot the puck.”

Through 17 games, the Canes have had 68 power-play opportunities, fourth-best in the NHL. But they’ve scored just nine times and their power-play percentage (13.2) was 22nd in the league after Saturday’s games.

The Hurricanes have gone 3-for-29 on the power play in the past eight games (2-5-1). Having forward Jeff Skinner out with an injury hasn’t helped, but the Canes should have enough firepower with Staal, Alexander Semin, Gerbe, Murphy and others.

“By the 20-game mark we’ll evaluate and see if there’s other personnel we should use,” Muller said. “We have some elite players here that are capable of getting the job done, so we’re sticking with them.

“When we get that rolling, that’s one more card that we have that will give us an opportunity to win hockey games.”

Having Ward back also will help. He skated on his own Friday, got in some on-ice work after Saturday’s team skate, then participated in most of Sunday’s practice. Defenseman Tim Gleason, out the past four games with an upper-body injury, also was at practice.

Muller said both players likely will need more practice time before being able to rejoin the lineup. The Canes host the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday.

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip

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