Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters looked much at ease Tuesday during a hockey instructional session with the media at PNC Arena, showing video of Canes scoring plays last season.
A year ago, it was all so new. Peters was about to begin his first year as an NHL head coach. He had yet to see his new players on the ice. Most of the media were unfamiliar and the video was of plays made when Kirk Muller was coach.
But it’s all Peters’ now. It’s his team, his system.
Ah, the system.
Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis, in his remarks after last season, said it took awhile for players to trust Peters’ system. Peters came in after three years as assistant coach under Mike Babcock with the Detroit Red Wings, implementing changes, stressing different ways of doing things.
As defenseman Justin Faulk said Tuesday, “Just a lot of details that all tie in together.”
When the Canes stumbled to an 0-6-2 start in October – albeit with center Jordan Staal sidelined with a broken leg – the trust factor was tested and it wasn’t until later that things began to smooth out. Carolina finished 30-41-11, missing the playoffs for a sixth straight year, but was a more competitive team once Staal returned and Peters’ system was fully in place.
“I think it’s going to be a lot easier going into year two, just the comfort level they have with me and also myself with them,” Peters said. “Now, as a coaching staff, we know what they’re capable of and should be able to put them in positions to succeed. … With the players, I think the comfort level will be higher and that’s the most important thing.”
When Muller was named the Hurricanes coach in late-November 2011, replacing the fired Paul Maurice, he needed no introductions to his new team. He was a former star in the league, a former Stanley Cup winner with the Montreal Canadiens.
Peters, in contrast, was more of an unknown. He had kept a low profile in Detroit and many of the Carolina players knew little of him. Now they do.
“For the guys who have been here, you know who he is and what he expects, how he wants to play,” captain Eric Staal said. “I’m sure there will be some tweaks here and there. But for the most part you know his style. How he sees a good game. How he sees good plays.”
Asked why it took so long last season to reach a comfort zone, Staal said, “I think that’s with any coach. I know for me, whenever we had a new coach come in, it took a good five, 10 or so games until you really feel comfortable and confident and believe in what you’re doing.”
Jordan Staal’s injury had a ripple effect, taking away a big checking center and power forward who could be used on special teams. Forward Jeff Skinner also suffered a concussion in the final preseason game. The Canes had to rely on such young forwards as rookie center Victor Rask and winger Elias Lindholm, a former first-round draft pick who was in his second season.
“It was difficult early, but once we had everyone going and in the lineup we believed in what we were doing and what Bill (Peters) was preaching and showed some good results,” Eric Staal said.
Peters did not make any staff changes. Assistant coach Rod Brind’Amour will handle the forwards and power play, Steve Smith will oversee the defensemen and penalty kill, and David Marcoux will be the goaltending coach working with Cam Ward and Eddie Lack.
Rask showed up in several of the highlighted plays Tuesday being shown by Peters, and Peters said it’s possible the Swede could center a line with Eric Staal and Lindholm on the wings. But regardless of the makeup of the lines, the one glaring need for the Hurricanes is scoring more goals.
Carolina was 27th in the NHL last season at 2.23 goals a game, and among the least productive offensive teams five-on-five, offsetting their power-play improvement.
“We’re going to tweak a few things from what we did last year, with an emphasis on being a more dangerous team offensively,” Peters said.
Skinner, who dipped to 18 goals last season, could be more dangerous. Lindholm and Rask could be more dangerous. Faulk, second on the team in scoring last season with 49 points, could be more dangerous offensively.
But Faulk believes the Canes will be a more dangerous team, one capable to contending for a playoff spot in Peters’ second season behind the bench.
“It’s not a matter of trusting the system. It’s a matter of trusting the players to make sure everyone that’s in the lineup that night is ready to go,” Faulk said. “The system is there, it works. Guys believe that.”