Muller loudly gets message across to Canes

calexander@newsobserver.comMarch 17, 2014 

CANESFLA07-SP-020714-nosell-CCS

The Canes head coach Kirk Muller watches the action.

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com

— It all spilled out of Carolina Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller on Monday.

There was frustration, fire and anger. There was emotion and there was exhortation. And, yes, there were some expletives mixed in.

At the end of the team practice at Raleigh Center Ice, Muller gathered his players around him on the ice for a few words. He was loud and his message clear.

Muller talked of “wanting guys who want to make a difference.” He said “losing is for losers” and that too many of the players were cheating and “playing their own way.”

Too many, he said, were “playing for the scoresheet” and worried about getting theirs. Some were more worried about new contracts, he said, and others about somehow holding on and playing another year in NHL.

“You’re a good group of guys but the culture is going to change,” he said. “It takes work, it takes togetherness. We have a lot of fans who support you guys and care about you and we’re not quitting. We’re staying together. You better stay together.”

Muller told the players he liked the energy at practice. But he said the consistency has not been there in games, or enough mental toughness.

At one point, he asked the players if they were upset – albeit in more graphic terms.

“We’re moving forward,” Muller said. “If you want to fit in, show it. Do it with work. I don’t want guys who don’t show up, who have bad body language. We’re going to practice hard, we’re going to play hard and we’re going to win games.”

The Hurricanes have not done enough winning this season. Back-to-back losses to the Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers have dropped Carolina to 29-30-9 and nine points out of playoff position after Sunday’s games.

Center Jordan Staal summed up the Canes’ position succinctly Sunday after the 2-1 loss to the Oilers: “Not in a good spot.”

Muller was particularly upset with the 5-1 loss in Boston on Saturday, saying the Canes did not compete. But losing to the Oilers at PNC Arena, giving up the winning goal on a third-period power play, did not set well with him, either.

Canes captain Eric Staal said he has seen Muller that fiery before, but usually behind closed doors.

“He’s been clear before,” Staal said Monday. “I think everybody knows where we’re at right now, our situation. The frustration everybody feels is coming through with him, and now it’s about how you respond and how you respond as a player and how you carry yourself going into the next game. It’s all about sticking together.”

The Canes play the next three on the road, beginning with Tuesday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Then it’s on to face the Chicago Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets.

“We have to do it together, we can’t have any passengers,” Muller said after practice. “We’ve got to play the game the right way and we’ve got to go earn it.

“We’re no different than any other organization. We’ve got fans that back this team and organization and it’s our obligation to go out and play as hard as we can and as well as we can in every game we suit up for.”

Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006, the Canes have been a part of the playoffs only once, reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 2009. Only a miracle run now can prevent them from missing the playoffs for a fifth straight season.

Staal, a big part of the Cup run, said he senses and understands the disappointment of Canes fans aching for their team to again be a part of the playoffs.

“I’ve been here a long time and our fans have been great,” Staal said. “They’re supportive and they’re probably as frustrated as I am. We expect better and we’re going to have to deliver.

“We appreciate, obviously, our fans and the support they’ve given us over the years. We’re going to continue to fight and compete. Ultimately, you need to do your best for the fans because they’re always there supporting you.”

NOTE: Canes forward Jiri Tlusty, who missed the Oilers game with a lower-body injury, won’t play against Columbus but could return this week, Muller said. Defenseman John-Michael Liles, sidelined the past five games because of a concussion, returned to practice Monday and wore a no-contact jersey.

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