Road stretch could be critical to Canes' season

calexander@newsobserver.comDecember 2, 2013 

— When Carolina Hurricanes practice ended Monday, the coaches and players headed in different directions.

The coaches flew to Detroit to help honor team owner Peter Karmanos Jr., who was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in ceremonies held at the Motor City Casino.

The players took a charter flight to Washington, where they will face the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night.

The question for coaches and players alike is what direction will this hockey team take? The Canes (10-12-5) have lost their past two games and six of the past eight, going 2-5-1, and now have six of the next seven games on the road and one home game Friday against San Jose.

After a 3-2 loss Sunday to the Vancouver Canucks at PNC Arena, the Canes were in sixth place in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division. The top three teams in the division automatically qualify for the playoffs and the Canes stood just five points out of second place, but can’t afford to keep slipping and may be at a critical juncture in the season.

‘Can’t hang your heads’

Canes coach Kirk Muller was asked Monday about the morale of his players.

“Actually, we’re fine,” he said. “We’re disappointed and we’re not happy about throwing away points that were big. But what are you going to do? … You can’t hang your heads.

“We’ve got three games in four nights now. We’ve got to compete harder and compete harder at a consistent level. But you can’t (waste) your energy on moping around.”

There was no moping Monday. The players put in a businesslike practice at PNC Arena that included two-on-one, three-on-two and five-on-five sessions.

“We have a confident group,” defenseman Ryan Murphy said. “Everybody is still positive, and we believe in what we can do on the ice. We just have to go out there and have a 60-minute game.”

The power play continues to be a problem – the Canes were 0-for-6 against the Canucks and are 3-41 in the past 13 games. Scoring goals is a problem, whether five-on-five or five-on-four. Slow starts in games have been a problem that Muller conceded Sunday he had trouble explaining.

Muller was pleased to see defenseman Andrej Sekera back at practice Monday. Sekera has missed the past two games with an upper-body injury, causing some shuffling on the back end, but could be back in the lineup for the Caps, Muller said.

Muller switched up his lines during Sunday’s game, at times moving winger Jeff Skinner on Eric Staal’s line. Skinner was on Staal’s line again in practice as Nathan Gerbe was on a line with Riley Nash and Elias Lindholm, who turned 19 Monday.

Muller said he still is unsure when forward Alexander Semin, sidelined since Nov. 16 with a concussion, will be able to rejoin practice. Defenseman Tim Gleason, who has missed the past four games with a lower-body injury, also missed practice and remains “day to day” but did make the two-game road trip.

Karmanos induction

Muller was playing for the Florida Panthers in 1997 when Karmanos relocated the Hartford Whalers to North Carolina. Like many in the NHL, he wasn’t sure if a team might be able to thrive in a smaller, nontraditional market such as Raleigh.

But Karmanos has made it work. The Canes reached the Stanley Cup final in 2002, were Stanley Cup champions four years later and have earned their niche in the Triangle sports landscape.

“He obviously did a lot of research,” Muller said. “At that time (in ’97), I hadn’t even been to (North) Carolina before. We all knew it was a big car-racing state and everything.

“He’s a smart business guy and he did his homework. He looked into an area he thought was worth bringing it to, and now it’s a great spot with some great loyal fans. He’s really shown that this game that we play and love can sell in a lot of markets.”

Joining Karmanos in this year’s induction class were former NHL forwards Doug Weight and Bill Guerin; former Michigan State men’s coach Ron Mason, and Cindy Curley, who has been called one of the pioneers of women’s hockey. Weight was a member of the Canes’ 2006 Cup champions.

Alexander: 919-829-8945 Twitter: @ice_chip

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