RBC CENTER (RALEIGH)—After losing his NHL coaching debut, Kirk Muller was all smiles.
But with bloodshot eyes.
"We didn't get the bounce, but they played hard."
Shawn Matthias, however, did get the bounce, banking a shot off Cam Ward's side to break a 1-1 tie with just over three minutes remaining and added an empty-net goal for Florida. Jose Theodore saved all but one of Carolina's 27 shots on goal.
Jeff Skinner tallied the Canes' only goal, his 10th of the season. Ward stopped 18 of 20 Florida shots, including a penalty shot by Jack Skille early in the third period. Carolina failed to score on four power plays in the game.
Expectations are high that Muller can do something about Carolina's impotence with the man advantage. His unit in Montreal was always quick and intense, something that a Canes power play could never have been accused of being. Still, Muller kept his finger firmly on a positive note.
"We gotta work on it. I want to be positive, but there's lots of things we can do to work on it and change it. You know, even if you don't score on it, your power play can really give you momentum. And the tough thing tonight is that five-on-five we were going so well, but the power play didn't create any momentum for us. We need more net presence. We're really out of synch. But that's stuff we can work on and it'll get better."
"Mo must go," fans chanted last week during another Carolina Hurricanes home loss. Today, Mo went.
At the end of a miserable November, the Hurricanes have dismissed coach Paul Maurice. General manager Jim Rutherford has replaced him with ex-Montreal great Kirk Muller.
This is Muller's first head coaching job at the National Hockey League level.
Muller has been the head coach of the Nashville Predators' AHL affiliate in Milwaukee this season after serving as an assistant coach in Montreal for five years. Credited with architecting the Canadiens' power play that helped oust a powerful Capitals squad from the playoffs two years ago, Muller wasn't destined for the job in Montreal despite having played there. As a player, he won the Stanley Cup with the Habs in 1993, played in six all-star games, and tallied nearly 1,000 points in more than 1,300 games across 19 seasons. He was a strong, two-way center, nicknamed "Captain Kirk" and "Kirk is Work."
His first game will be in Raleigh on Tuesday as the Hurricanes host the Florida Panthers. The Panthers lead the Southeast division. The Canes occupy its cellar.
Paul Maurice coached 920 games with the Hartford/Carolina franchise. This was his second stint with the team. His defense-first style led the low-scoring Canes to the Stanley Cup finals in 2002, where they fell to the Detroit Red Wings in five games. The Canes missed the playoffs the following season, and won their only cup with Peter Laviolette at the helm in 2006. After a similar dip in fortunes, the Canes tried Maurice again, and his forechecking Canes fought their way to the conference finals in 2009, where the Pittsburgh Penguins swept them. Carolina has not returned to the playoffs since, missing out last season by losing their final game at home to Tampa Bay.
Here's a suggestion for Muller. Take the captain's "C" off Eric Staal's sweater. Let him be just a player. Make Jeff Skinner or even Jay Harrison, who seems to be stepping up in the locker room, another alternate captain and play for a while without a captain. Then, in April, put the "C" on the most appropriate player.
Staal is at a fork in the road of his career, and Muller should grab his steering wheel. Down one path, we will be able to replace Muller's name with Staal's in the career-rundown sentence a couple paragraphs above. Down the other path—the path he's following this season—he will become the one of the storied Staal family that never fulfilled his promise.
A look at the league standings might cause one to utter "The Canes stink," but the fact is, this is not a bad roster of players. Put the roster next to that of all but the top teams and you don't see much of a difference. But there's a spark missing. Erik Cole, departed via free agency to Montreal, might have been that spark. But a coach should be able to change flints. This team is simply not anywhere near as bad as its record.
Another thing worth mentioning about Sunday's loss in Ottawa—Tomas Kaberle was a healthy scratch. Could a trade be imminent? Pierre LeBrun mentioned that Rutherford had been trying to trade Kaberle in an ESPN.com chat with Scott Burnside. GMs scratch players sometimes when a deal is in the last stage of being closed, rather than risk an injury to the player that would scuttle it. But with the paltry numbers Kaberle has put up—along with his hefty price tag ($4.25 million) and term (two more seasons after this one)—what team would want him? Perhaps Philadelphia, a well-heeled team that likes high-profile players and might need a point man for their power play now that Chris Pronger's health has become a question? It is time to wildly speculate about this.
Coincidentally, the Washington Capitals also changed coaches today. Gone is Bruce Boudreau who, along with Maurice, was one of the wittiest men in recent years to stand behind a bench. Former Caps warrior Dale Hunter takes the helm in the nation's capital. Since his retirement in 1999, he's had fantastic success guiding the OHL London Knights for 11 seasons.
The Tar Heels entered the weekend as a clear favorite to win both of their games — the Runnin’ Rebels defeated USC on Friday to set up the final match-up — but simply were overwhelmed by UNLV’s torrid shooting and their own lackluster play on both ends of the court.
Let’s begin with the 90-80 defeat to the Runnin’ Rebels. Collectively, Carolina’s gravest concerns surround the club’s poor rebounding and free throw shooting. UNC typically rebounds very well for Roy Williams — including this same group of guys last season — and you’d expect that problem to dissipate, but the Heels failed to corral rebounds in both Vegas games (losing the battle 48-39 versus UNLV) and previously were ransacked on the glass by Michigan State.
On free throws, the Heels are hovering at about 60 percent as a team. They shot 25 free throws in the second half alone against UNLV but converted only 15; in a 10-point game, the effect is obvious.
Individually, the frontcourt performed disastrously. Tyler Zeller and John Henson played meekly and shot just 10-for-28 combined. Harrison Barnes reverted back to his November form from a season ago, scoring 15 points but doing so in a 6-for-16 shooting outing.
Things don’t get prettier in the backcourt. Ironically, the Tar Heel starter most frequently cited as one who should sit — Dexter Strickland — is the one who has been most consistent this season. Strickland and playmaking maestro Kendall Marshall aren’t a natural guard tandem, however, because neither player is a shooter. Marshall and Strickland are a combined 3-for-10 on threes this year, and Strickland hasn’t hoisted a single attempt.
CARMICHAEL ARENA/CHAPEL HILL UNC comes back from its Thanksgiving break to complete its five-game homestand, and the Tar Heels are going to play shorthanded.
That leaves eight players to take on Kennesaw State today, so both freshmen Megan Buckland and Brittany Rountree will get the start.
KSU has visited Carmichael each of the last three seasons with an 0-3 record, and the closest approach was 34 points.
The Owls take advantage of the Tar Heels’ lack of depth as all five UNC starters play at least 31 minutes, and fall only 76-62 this time.
CARTER-FINLEY STADIUM/RALEIGH N.C. State comes into its final game of the regular season with a pretty clear mission.
That’s what State will have to do today against recent nemesis Maryland, who kept the Wolfpack out of the ACC title game with a comeback victory in College Park last year and dumped a losing season on State in 2007, Tom O’Brien’s first-year as head coach.
State can’t have a losing season, but because of a weak schedule needs a victory to qualify for a bowl. The 6-5 Wolfpack beat two teams that count as FCS opponents — obviously Liberty, but also a South Alabama team that will be a full FBS member next season after its transition is over — and needs to get a seventh win to go to a bowl game.
All it has to do is beat the worst team in the ACC, a 2-9 Maryland club that has lost seven straight games and the last six of those by at least 11 points.
It turns out to be yet another Carter-Finley November 2011 Classic, as the Wolfpack comes from a ridiculous 41-14 deficit to score the game’s final 42 points and win 56-41.
Saturday will be the final day of college football’s regular season in the Triangle, and there are still a couple of major questions to be answered.
Can N.C. State win one more home game in which it’s favored and earn itself a bowl bid?
Is it Everett Withers’ last home game as head coach at UNC, and can he go out a winner — or will Duke finally get a chance to paint the Victory Bell for the first time since 2003?
The answers will start coming at 12:30, when State (6-5, 3-4 ACC) puts its entire season on the line against struggling Maryland (2-9, 1-6) at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Since the Wolfpack played two teams that count as Division I-FCS opponents — South Alabama will count as an FBS member next season — it needs to win seven to qualify for a bowl game. (They’re hoping but not talking about the Belk Bowl in Charlotte on Dec. 27.) That would also lock up a second straight winning season for State for the first time since 2002-03.
UNC (6-5, 2-5) will host Duke (3-8, 1-6) at 3:30 at Kenan Stadium, and since the Tar Heels played just one FCS team they’re all bowl-ready. But they’d love to protect that bell, either helping interim coach Withers get the full-time position or at least helping send him out on a good note.
RBC CENTER, RALEIGH—A little more than a week ago, the Carolina Hurricanes played one of their worst games in memory, losing 4-0 in Montreal. But after playing three fairly inspired games since then, the Canes were looking forward to exorcising the Canadiens in Raleigh on Thanksgiving Eve.
Close, but no cigar.
Wednesday would be no different, as Carolina opened a lead, faltered at the midpoint, struggled to get past regulation, and finally fell in a shootout, 4-3, costing them their modest but encouraging two-game win streak.
REYNOLDS COLISEUM/RALEIGH N.C. State is back home for a Thanksgiving Eve meeting with Jacksonville, and all things considered there’s an active and enthusiastic crowd in the house.
The deeper Wolfpack has started the season on a hot streak.
Jacksonville, of the Atlantic Sun Conference, is 0-3 for just the third time in school history.
The streaks hold up pretty convincingly in this one, as State rolls to an 80-42 victory.
Reggie Bullock became the story of the game. A sophomore whose freshman season was cut short due to a knee injury, Bullock stroked home 23 points on an improbable 6-for-7 from long range.
Bullock has become something of a forgotten man due to more than the injury. He’s a classmate of Harrison Barnes at the same position — though Roy Williams now is utilizing Bullock more frequently as a shooting guard, rather than a wing forward — and plays with a more laid back approach than the more gregarious Tar Heels such as John Henson.
Because UNC had struggled to this point shooting the ball — particularly as neither Dexter Strickland nor Kendall Marshall has yet demonstrated accuracy — Bullock’s emergence as a shooter could prove critical against more powerful foes.
Meanwhile, Henson continues to scorch. He shot 8-for-11 from the field en route to 16 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four blocks, game by game proving to be a far more complete player than anyone expected.
Remember two years ago ago when Henson was a gangly freshman playing out of position on the wing? The junior big man now has blossomed into arguably the best player on a loaded team, improving his turnaround jump shot to an extraordinary degree since last season.
For the second straight game the Heels played against a small opponent, and not surprisingly Tyler Zeller enjoyed another strong outing — 16 points and 10 rebounds — as well. Harrison Barnes isn’t hitting his jump shot consistently but is a more physical and efficient scorer this year, as his 18 points resulted from a solid 8-for-16 from the field.
Individual performances aside, Carolina’s defense continues to define this team. Roy Williams certainly wasn’t happy with UNC’s atrocious offensive play in the first half, but the Heels still carried a double-digit lead into the break and for the game held the Devils to just 38 percent shooting.
Carolina requires its defense to be stout, because offensively this isn't the 2009 team that could afford to pick its spots defensively. The Heels made only 26 percent from the three-point arc and shot a horrible 52 percent from the free throw line. Jump shooting remains the most troubling concern for this team looking forward, but of course it’s a long season and some players still are learning their roles.