Tracking the Storm

Canes Focused Heading into Holiday

Tuesday, 12.20.2011 / 1:16 PM ET / Tracking the Storm
By Michael Smith
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Canes Focused Heading into Holiday
“There'll be parties for hosting / Marshmellows for toasting / And caroling out in the snow.” So goes the 1960s holiday hit “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” recorded by Andy Williams, and around this time of year, it’s easy to get caught up in the spirit of the season.

Michael Smith
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But for the Carolina Hurricanes, there’s still hockey left to be played. Two games separate the team from a short Christmas break, and focus was the main message of practice today.

“It’s all focus right now,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “There’s a lot of distractions. Family’s coming in. They’re all human beings. It’s a big celebration time of the year.”

The Phoenix Coyotes come to town tomorrow night in the teams’ only meeting of the season. Tonight, the Coyotes are in South Florida taking on the Panthers, who topped the Canes 3-2 in overtime on Sunday. At 16-13-3, Phoenix sits just two points out of a playoff spot in the West. The team’s leading scorer is a familiar face: Ray Whitney. The 39-year-old has totaled 28 points (10g, 18a) this season.

Ottawa will be at the RBC Center on the 23rd, in what will be the third of four meetings between the two teams this season. The Senators edged the Canes 4-3 in late November and 3-2 in a shootout in late October. Their leading scorer, Jason Spezza, has three of the team’s six goals (shootout goal is the extra seventh) scored against Carolina this season.

“We’ve had a good focus in the last 5-6 games and we’ve got two games left," Muller said. "That’s where we’ve got to be professionals, be prepared and be ready to go.”

After an off day for holiday community visits on Monday, Muller and his coaching staff skated the Hurricanes for about an hour today. The up-tempo practice ended with a shootout, complete with an ice scrape from the Olympia before shooting.

“We want to work hard, but you can have fun working hard,” Muller said.

Absent from the team’s practice today was Brandon Sutter, who is nursing a lower-body injury. He will be in the lineup tomorrow night, according to Muller.

“We’ve got two games left until our Christmas break, and that’s where I’m concerned about making sure they’re ready to go,” Muller said. “So if anyone needed any maintenance, I told them, ‘Save it, and give it all for the games.’”

As has been the case in the last week of practices, the power play received a lot of attention. It continues to show signs of improvement, despite the team’s streak of four-straight games with a power play goal ending on Sunday.

The thesis of the power play: don’t get away from shooting the puck. On more than one occasion, Muller blew the play dead during practice when he saw a player pass up a shot attempt. As assistant coach John MacLean said in practice on Dec. 14, “We can’t pass [the puck] or carry it into the net.”

“You want to run the plays and move the puck around so you get the penalty killers out of position, but once you do, the purpose of it is to get shots and opportunities,” Muller said. “[We can’t] forget to have that shooting mentality when it’s there.”

Unlike another professional sports league, which will be starting its regular season on Christmas Day, the National Hockey League shuts down its operations for two days in observance of the holiday. There’s even a roster freeze in effect until Tuesday, Dec. 27, which bars players being traded or picked up on waivers and ensures a bit of stability around the holiday season.

So for the Hurricanes, the challenge is to stay focused until the weekend. Two games in front of the home crowd against two teams knocking on the door of the playoff picture before a brief break.

“We know where we are in the standings, but what we can control is our games,” Muller said. “If we put two wins together here at home, we’re sitting – who knows? – five points out at Christmas.”

“Tales of the glories from Christmases long, long ago,” perhaps?

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - NYR 82 53 22 7 252 192 113
2 y - MTL 82 50 22 10 221 189 110
3 x - TBL 82 50 24 8 262 211 108
4 x - WSH 82 45 26 11 242 203 101
5 x - NYI 82 47 28 7 252 230 101
6 x - DET 82 43 25 14 235 221 100
7 x - OTT 82 43 26 13 238 215 99
8 x - PIT 82 43 27 12 221 210 98
9 BOS 82 41 27 14 213 211 96
10 FLA 82 38 29 15 206 223 91
11 CBJ 82 42 35 5 236 250 89
12 PHI 82 33 31 18 215 234 84
13 NJD 82 32 36 14 181 216 78
14 CAR 82 30 41 11 188 226 71
15 TOR 82 30 44 8 211 262 68
16 BUF 82 23 51 8 161 274 54

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
E. Staal 77 23 31 -13 54
J. Faulk 82 15 34 -19 49
E. Lindholm 81 17 22 -23 39
V. Rask 80 11 22 -14 33
J. Skinner 77 18 13 -24 31
N. Gerbe 78 10 18 -14 28
R. Nash 68 8 17 -10 25
J. Staal 46 6 18 -6 24
J. Liles 57 2 20 -9 22
J. McClement 82 7 14 -7 21
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 22 24 5 .910 2.40
A. Khudobin 8 17 6 .900 2.72