RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes were back on the ice in preparation of facing off against the New York Rangers at PNC Arena on Tuesday.
After taking a day off on Sunday, they put in the reps on Monday to try to overcome and get past consecutive losses in their recent back-to-back set against the Rangers (4-2) and the New Jersey Devils (5-4).
The losses are part of a 1-6 record the team has compiled since restarting play following the Olympic break and has placed them a long distance away from earning a playoff spot – sitting eight and 10 points away in the NHL Eastern Conference wildcard and Metropolitan Division standings respectively.
With 18 games left to play in the regular season, the window of opportunity to make a successful push into the postseason is closing quickly while the team struggles to get wins with a now unstable lineup.
According to head coach Kirk Muller, captain Eric Staal, who didn’t practice on Monday, was sick and it would be determined on game day whether he would play against New York.
Muller also indicated that defensemen Justin Faulk and John-Michael Liles would not be available to play against the Rangers, and were considered as day-to-day in terms of returning in the future.
Thus, with those three being questionable to play, the task of retrofitting lines and defensive pairings has become a big part of what the Hurricanes coaching staff has had to focus on lately.
Due to the Faulk and Liles injuries, the Hurricanes reinforced the blue line by bringing rookie defenseman Ryan Murphy back up after a 16-game stint with the team’s AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers.
Additionally, later in the day on Monday, the team recalled another Checkers defenseman, Michal Jordan, on an emergency basis.
The situation has called for Muller to appeal to his players to draw more from their mental strength in order to keep working to move forward, rather than treading along.
With the addition of forward Andrei Loktionov who was acquired in a deadline day trade for Tuomo Ruutu, Carolina continued to patch together a revamped lineup to do its work effectively at both ends of the ice during practice.
As hard as they’re working to stay their course while also making adjustments on the fly to reap successful results, it will all need to be done quickly in order to thin the air of doubt surrounding the team’s ability to win at this late stage of the season.
It’s a daunting task to everyone watching the Hurricanes from the outside, but when asked what his team’s mindset is while working to do what many will call the impossible, Muller indicated that his team will still fight until the end.
“We spoke this morning that you gotta’ believe and look around at each other,” he said.
“This is your family, this is your group. That’s what you play for. As long as you have that compete level and fight in you, you’re still in the game. We have that.”
The opportunity to wipe away remnants of a poor restart to the season offers itself up when the puck drops against Rangers, and even while losing to them only four days ago, Carolina will play the same style of game that it has all year.
Even with changes to the lineup, this team will not stray from what it’s worked all season long in doing – maintaining their identity and who they are.
“They’re ready to go,” Muller concluded.
“They know that a couple of breaks here will make a difference. We’re just gonna’ take it one day at a time.”