Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters conducted a hockey skull session with local media members Thursday, quickly but thoroughly explaining his forechecking strategy.
Peters spoke in rapid-fire fashion as video clips of Canes’ games from last season were shown in the locker room at PNC Arena.
“A structured forecheck leads to offensive opportunity,” Peters said, pointing at the screen as Eric Staal’s forecheck against the New York Rangers ended with winger Elias Lindholm banging in the rebound of a Jeff Skinner shot.
“That’s how you score in the National Hockey League,” Peters said. “It’s a simple game played by simple people. You need to do it right and you need to do it right all the time.”
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Peters’ mini-clinic was part of the Canes’ annual media day and kept everybody’s attention. But a new coach making his points to media types is one thing; making them to his players is another.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a big learning curve,” Peters said. “I think there’s going to be some habits that need to be reshaped, moreso than anything. And just constant communication.
“There’s going to be some things that don’t go right early. We play an exhibition on day three (of training camp), so I don’t expect us to be perfect on day three. But I expect us to be getting better each and every day, and especially each and every month as the calendar clicks off.”
Peters’ charge in his first year as an NHL head coach is to take a team that again missed the Stanley Cup playoffs, that has changed little of its personnel, and mold it into a playoff-caliber team. That begins in two weeks, when the Canes officially open training camp and the skull sessions become a lot more intricate.
“I think we have a hungry group,” Peters said. “It’s been five years since we played a playoff game. I talked to three guys today and said, ‘How was your summer?’ ‘L-ooong.”
“When you play in playoff games it shortens up your offseason. They’re all under the assumption it was a long offseason. Hopefully they think it’s too long.”
Lindholm, for example, visited Greece, then spent three months at home in Sweden. A rookie last year, the Canes’ first-round draft pick in 2013 is eager to get things moving again.
“When we’re playing good we’re a really good team,” Lindholm said. “We just need to play hard all (season) long. We didn’t do it last year. We didn’t get to the playoffs. Hopefully this year.”
Peters spent the past three seasons as an assistant on Mike Babcock’s coaching staff with the Detroit Red Wings, a team that has been a part of the NHL postseason for 23 consecutive years. Asked what, other than sheer talent, separates playoff teams from non-playoff teams, Peters replied, “Mental toughness.”
“There’s no excuses,” he said. “You can look at the schedule, you can look at this, that and the other. There’s just no excuses.
“I can remember sitting in the (Wings) coaching room and we had some key guys dinged up and (injured). We were one or two points out of a playoff spot. Our coach said, “We’re getting in the playoffs. I don’t exactly know how we’re going to do it but we’re coming back tomorrow and will have some answers that are solution-based.’ So we did. You dig in. You’ve got to be mentally tough.”
While the Canes are hardly a big team, nothing like the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, Peters said they do have speed and skaters capable of playing a “heavy game.” They have depth at center, he noted, eight defensemen who played NHL games last season and a pair of experienced, quality goalies in Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin.
Peters said he’d like to have a clearcut No. 1 goalie, someone who could handle a 60-game workload. Ward and Khudobin, he said, have seven exhibition games to settle that issue before the Oct. 10 season-opener against the New York Islanders.
Someone mentioned Canes fans are hungry for a playoff team after five straight years of missing out. That left Peters smiling.
“We need the players to be hungrier than the fans,” he said. “If it’s the other way around it’s not going to change. We need to be hungry, we need to be desperate.”
The Canes’ coaches before Peters have said much the same – Peter Laviolette, Paul Maurice, Kirk Muller. But it’s now Peters’ team, Peters’ turn.