Defense, details priorities for Canes in stretch run

Posted by Chip Alexander on February 24, 2014 

The Canes put in a physical practice, then flew out of Raleigh on Monday, eager to resume their season.

"The guys are ready to go, physically and mentally," Canes coach Kirk Muller said.

The Olympics are over. So is the Olympic break. There are 25 games remaining for Carolina, starting with Tuesday's game at Buffalo. The Canes must play their first five on the road and 16 of the final 25, but believe they have the kind of team that can reach the playoffs.

Written in the Canes’ locker room at Raleigh Center Ice were the points of emphasis for the stretch run:

"Defense first"

"Accountability"

"Details"

"Work"

"Get Better Every Day"

"Be a Pro"

"For us, it's all about the details," center Manny Malhotra said. "You're not going to see those 5-2 games anymore. You're going to see a lot of defensive-minded games. Teams aren't going to give up a lot, so you better be sure you're not giving up a lot."

Muller said it could take about 92 or 94 points to reach the playoffs. The Canes (26-22-9) are sixth in the tightly bunched Metropolitan Division with 61 points, five points behind third-place Philadelphia in the division and three points behind the Detroit Red Wings in the Eastern Conference wild-card race (Carolina has two games-in-hand on the Flyers and one game-in-hand on the Wings.)

"We feel good about ourselves," Muller said. "You talk about day one to where we are now, with nine new guys in the group and a lot of adjustments … at the end of the day we put ourselves in a position where we're right with everybody fighting for the playoffs.

"We're not going to throw numbers at them at what we feel will be the magic number to get. We have to focus on every day, one day at a time. Whether it's a practice or it's a game, that's where our whole focus will be -- do what we have to do to get the job done each day."

Muller said Team Canada's gold-medal run in Sochi was a good example of how the Canes need to play. That is, defense first, good goaltending and then enough offense to win.

"The success of Canada winning the Olympics and how they did it is right up the alley of what we have to preach here," Muller said Monday. "Defense, the way the NHL is now, is going to give you an opportunity to win hockey games.

"We've got to go in that this is a huge road trip for us to start off. We have to go into every game playing well defensively, compete hard and pay attention to details and just get off to a get start."

After facing the Sabres, the Canes move West to play the Dallas Stars, L.A. Kings, Anaheim Ducks and then San Jose Sharks before returning to Raleigh for a March 7 game against the New York Rangers.

Muller did not commit to a starting goaltender for the Sabres game. Cam Ward got a lot of work Monday and could play his first game since Dec. 31 during the trip.

Forward Tuomo Ruutu, who won a bronze medal with Finland in Sochi, returned to Raleigh on Monday but did not practice. Defenseman Justin Faulk (Team USA) will join the team in Buffalo.

Both are expected to play against the Sabres. "I'm sure they want to get involved and right back at it," Muller said.

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