RALEIGH, N.C. – Carolina Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller and his staff had a specific plan to follow from the beginning of training camp and they’ve stuck to it to this day.
From the initial 48-man roster that started on Sept. 11, the group that is targeted to start the upcoming NHL season on Oct. 4 has been whittled down to 28 players as of Wednesday, and will be smoothened out a little more over the next week.
In full disclosure, the initial message from Muller was that throughout the team’s first four preseason games, all players would get a decent opportunity to show if they were ready to assume roles that the team needed to fill.
After evaluation through a four-games-in-four-nights stretch in which the Hurricanes were able to win only once, the pecking order was assembled and a number of players were reassigned to the team’s AHL affiliate club, the Charlotte Checkers, or back to their respective junior teams.
With the regular season now fast approaching, the team’s practice pace will become more compact and specifically targeted in all areas including five-on-five and special teams work related to offensive and defensive movement and coverage.
“It’s almost like fine tuning,” Muller said.
“Special teams, we’re lookin’ to chemistry and movement. Five on five, (working on) defensive zone stuff. Now our next part of it, you’re gonna’ see practices shorter and more emphasis on really creating more forechecking on the offense, and getting that higher tempo of being a quick team in this next span from now until opening night.”
It seems that everything has progressed along as planned with the exception of one area – injuries to key personnel.
Though inevitable, recent reports have shown that previous injuries to forwards Jiri Tlusty and Elias Lindholm, along with more current issues with forwards Alexander Semin, Tuomo Ruutu and defenseman Tim Gleason, has provided a tentative, yet still forward-moving approach for Muller and his staff to forge along with.
With two preseason games remaining against teams who got the better of his team the first time, a return engagement with the Columbus Blue Jackets in Ohio on Thursday and back home against the Buffalo Sabres on Friday, Muller will more accurately see where the Hurricanes stand a week before the NHL season starts.
He may not have those specific players available to go at full speed to work on special teams play with the rest of the group, but the concepts must still be practiced and there are others who now have a chance to fill in and step into those situations.
“Today’s really the first day of putting the special teams together because we haven’t had the makeup of the guys together at the same time,” Muller said.
“Sems goes down and Jiri’s hurt earlier than that, so there’s no sense working on the power play until you get the right guys you want to work with (aren’t there). We said we’d start it right now (regardless).”
Heading into the weekend, after winning or losing, he will then need to look at his plan again and adjust it as necessary.
It’s what all forward-thinking coaches do – adapt and move on.
With the word ‘injury’ probably not listed on the original planning sheet for training camp that’s rested on his desk for a very long time, Muller now will have to reach to his middle drawer and pull out the contingency plan(s) he hopefully has drawn up to deal with such situations accordingly.
It may be too early to go to plan B or C, but with the experience of the latter part of last season and with the structured methodology that the Hurricanes coach has utilized to date, it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s even got some more notes sitting in his lowest drawer.
Hopefully, he won’t have to reach that far down at any point during the season.