Game Day Preview: Panthers vs. Hurricanes. The Muller Era Begins



GAME TIME: 7:00 P.M. Eastern



It’s almost the end of Movember and the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes are meeting for only the first time this season.  A stark contract to the Tampa Bay Lightning whom the Panthers have already played four times.  As I touched on this morning, tonight’s game will have some extra flair since it’s the head coaching debut of former Panther Kirk Muller the new bench boss for the Hurricanes.  Muller has a tall task ahead of him in his first head coaching assignment as he attempts to get the Hurricanes climb out of last place in the Southeast division.

This coaching gig will be quite the challenge for Muller as the Canes have lost 10 of their last 13 games, and have made only one playoff appearance since 2006.  Muller talked briefly about his new position:

"“It’s very simple: you’ve got to get guys to believe in the system,” Muller said. “You’ve got to get them to believe in being accountable for each other. And if you can come every night and you create that culture, and you give them something, a way to believe in how they play and why you’re going to win that night, I think that’s what players want.”"

Carolina and Muller are fortunate to have two of the top talents in the NHL today in Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner.  However while Skinner seems to be unaware of the that thing called the sophomore slump (9-g, 12-a, 21 points), Staal on the other hand is having a frustrating season.  In 25 games the captain of Carolina has 5 goals, 6 assists and is a minus 17.  The Canes powerplay is second worst in the league at a 12.2 percent.  After Staal and Skinner, and Tuomo Ruttu who has 7 goals, the offense drops off dramatically.

Defensively the Canes have given up a league worst 83 goals as Cam Ward and backup Brian Boucher are sporting some hefty save percentages.  Ward is at .905 and Boucher is at .877.  Neither is something to be happy about.  Both goaltenders goals against is over 3.00 per game.  Muller will have to tighten up the defence, and get the forwards to comply by backchecking as well.  As down in the dumps as the Canes have been this season, a coaching change can sometimes inject the right amount of energy and spark a team out of a slump.  Look at how the St. Louis Blues have played since Ken Hitchcock took over.  The Blues are 7-1-2 in their last 1o games, and Carolina is hoping for a similar effect here.

The Panthers are hoping to stop a streak of their own following home and home losses to the Tampa Bay Lightning after reeling off a three game winning streak on home ice.  Part of the problem for the Panthers has been their power play which went 0 for 10 against Tampa, which included six opportunities in the 5-1 defeat on Saturday.  The power play currently ranks 11th in the league at 17.9 percent, but that includes the early season game against Tamp where the Panthers scored five times in nine chances with the man advantage.  Since then, the PP has been average at best.  Kevin Dineen the Panther coach made this brief comment after Saturday’s loss:

"“I would just say our power play was a pretty good example of our overall game that we didn’t have much jump out there,” Dineen told the Panthers’ official website."

The Panthers who currently are in first place in the Southeast division over Washington by a three point margin are hoping to get back on track with this three game road trip that will take them to Los Angeles and San Jose later this week.  Again, secondary scoring is needed as players like Tomas Kopecky, Mike Santorelli and Marco Sturm are all scoreless in their last five games.  Potentially being on the road can be a good thing as long as the team tries to keep things simple.  It appears, and correct me if I’m wrong that when the Panthers get too fancy, or cute, they seem to struggle.  More dirty goals, more physical play and a tighter defence will be needed.

I don’t think they can take the struggling Hurricanes for granted tonight.  Carolina always plays us tough no matter the situation, and was 4-1-1 against the Panthers last season with all three games at the RBC center decided by one goal.  Jose Theodore is back in net tonight after his breather on Saturday.  Theo is 5-2-0 with a 2.31 GAA in seven road starts.  In 33 career starts versus Carolina, Theodore is 16-12-3 with 4 shutouts.  He has and continues to be a very bright spot for the Florida Panthers.  Honestly, I can’t say enough positive things about his play.  Cool, calm, and focused.  And his demeanor after being down 3-0 to the Devils after 12 minutes was remarkable.

If scoring comes from the other nine forwards and the top line of Weiss, Versteeg and Flash make their normal contributions, the Panthers can get back to their winning ways.  They’ll have to earn it as no one is going to make things easy for them, and previous Panther teams have proven that playing in Raleigh is not one of their favourite things.

Nerdy Notes:

* Tuomo Ruttu is two assists shy of 100 with Carolina.

* Carolina leads the series 48-31-13-1.

* Since moving into the RBC Center in 1999, Carolina is 26-5-3 at home against the Panthers.

* Cam Ward is 12-7-1 versus the Panthers with a 3.10 GAA.

* Tomas Fleischmann has 11 points in his last nine games for Florida.

* The top line for the Panthers (Weiss, Versteeg, Flash) has scored 30 of the teams 63 goals.


* Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen played 12 of his 19 NHL seasons with the Hartford Whalers and Carolina Hurricanes after they moved.

* New Caroline coach Kirk Muller played slightly over two years with the Panthers in the mid to late 90’s.  He is the 12th head coach of the Hurricanes.

* Carolina defenceman Bryan Allen played four plus seasons for Florida before being traded last season to Carolina.

* Carolina forward Anthony Stewart was a former first round pick of the  Florida Panthers in 2003.

Thanks for reading. We welcome your comments and opinions.

Check out my Movember page and donate if you can.

Be sure to follow the Rat Pack on Twitter: Me Cameron Tahernia @Lord_Panther, Frank Rekas @TheRatTrick, David Lasseter @davidlasseter, Josh Luecht @joshluecht, Patrick McLaughlin @PatrickRattrick,Paige Lewis @Peejlewiz, Scott Mullin @GreatScottsman, and David Rodriguez @davidbub_2.   Also be sure to check out our Facebook Fan Page and send us comments and photos throughout the season!