Even after the Carolina Hurricanes fell behind by four? – five? – goals Saturday night, Kirk Muller kept his lineup intact, watching and assessing through the second and third periods. He pulled Cam Ward after one period, but he wasn’t ready to pull the plug on his line combinations. Yet.
Muller wasn’t panicking then and he wasn’t panicking Monday, when the Hurricanes returned to practice with a completely scrambled lineup for Tuesday night’s home opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He stayed the course Saturday to get a look at how things were working. Monday, he set about fixing what wasn’t.
It did have the appearance of panic, what with all these changes after one game, one loss. But with no preseason games to assess chemistry and no time to let it develop on its own during a 48-game season, Muller and his staff are trying to find a balance between patience and pragmatism. On Monday, that meant a top-to-bottom reshuffle, provoked in part by circumstances beyond their control when forward Zac Dalpe was sent home sick.
“I don’t really read too much into it,” Hurricanes forward Chad LaRose said. “We’ll take what we can from the Florida game and learn from it. We’re not going to win all 48.”
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Some of the changes were not surprising. Zach Boychuk was conspicuously knocked off the puck on multiple occasions, while Drayson Bowman was a key part of an effective fourth line. They swapped spots, with Bowman jumping up to play with Eric Staal and Alexander Semin.
The lack of chemistry between Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner was apparent, so they were separated – with the ulterior motive of putting together a defensive-minded group to play against Tampa’s powerful Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis on Tuesday.
Mostly, though, the emphasis wasn’t on who was playing with whom, but how everyone played. Effort wasn’t an issue Saturday night, but execution was disastrous at times, particularly in that four-goal first period when basic, preventable mistakes – blown coverages, turnovers, poor discipline – led to an early Florida barrage and sent Ward to the bench.
Some of that can be chalked up to nerves, some of it to a lack of sharpness after the short training camp, some of it to poor decisions – bad penalties, long shifts – for which players have been, and will be, held accountable.
“It was such a short training camp, you have to mix and match a little bit and see what works and what doesn’t,” Hurricanes center Tim Brent said. “I don’t think anyone in here is panicking, but if we continue to do some of the things we did the other night, we’ll be vulnerable.”
So they mixed and matched Monday, and they may mix and match again on Wednesday, depending on what happens against the Lightning. It may have looked like panic, but this is no time to panic – Saturday’s loss was only one game, full of correctable errors, and Monday’s tweaks were dictated by circumstances largely out of Muller’s control.
(To be fair, if Paul Maurice were tossing names in a hat after one game, he’d be pilloried for it, but Muller still has deep reserves of goodwill here, more than enough to get the benefit of the doubt.)
“Once this gets rolling,” Muller said, “You’re not going to see a lot of changes.”
The latter half of that statement is less important for the Hurricanes than the former. The sooner it gets rolling, the better.