Carolina Hurricanes Head Coach Paul Maurice was a busy man yesterday at the Canes' Media Day'event. Most of the folk attending wanted to speak with him, and the coach was very patient and answered everyone's questions. The following transcript is Part 1 of a question and answer session that I took part in.
You have a few new players on the blueline. How do you feel about the physicality of your new defense?
You play to your strengths. As a group, it's not a bone-crushing defense. But as a group, it also would be above average in skill level. We have got guys who can skate, go back and get the puck, and get it out quick, and that's the way we will have to play the game. But we have some physical guys. Tim Gleason will continue to play physical. Joni Pitkanen does not get nearly the credit he deserves, for how physical he is and how mean he is. Harrison and Carson are bigger bodied guys, so we do have a bit of that element. But what we want to do as a group is go back, grab it, and go. And not spend a whole lot of time grinding it out at our end of the ice.
Who do you see as a surprise in that group this season?
You know what? Someone you really don't hear much about, but someone who I think is still really improving as a defenseman is Tim Gleason. You saw a glimpse of some offense from him last season. He's always been kind of a stay at home, grinding defenseman, and what we did was put him in the position to be on the number one shutdown pairing. I think this guy is just going to keep getting better and better and better until he just becomes dominant. You know, you saw it last year at the Olympics. He's a guy who kind of got added late, and then by the end of the tournament, he's running big minutes against the other team's best. He's not somebody, because of his style, that you can watch on TV three times a year and understand who he is. You need to watch this guy every night and every shift to find out, this guy is pretty darn physical and very effective. I think he is unsung in his abilities.
Are you concerned at all about Cam Ward's health and how do you feel about a young, inexperienced Justin Peters as his backup?
First of all, Cam Ward looks good. He has really worked hard over the summer and he is aware of the prep work that he needs for that back to feel good. But we are going to have to be more careful about playing him consecutive games and his number of games running. The interesting thing is, and Cam will tell you, he likes the back-to- back games because he feels better the second night, and most number ones will tell you that. So it might not be the obvious back-to-back nights we take him out of. Justin Peters will compete with Pogge and Murphy for a job here, but because of his play last year, he is going to play games for us and I am comfortable putting him out there. He's a competitor. He works hard and stays late every practice and the guys love him for it. And that is a big part of it. When the backup goes in, you don't want your locker room going, "oh my God, we don't have a chance". You want them to say, "we have to play harder for Justin tonight" and our guys do that.
You've known Jay Harrison from your Toronto days. What do you like about his game?
Jay played for me in the minors, then didn't get much of a chance to play for the Leafs when I was there. I thought that in the last 15 games last year, and he was also playing with an injury, he played assertively, physically, and intelligently, and that's the game he has to play. But Jay knows more than any player that if he doesn't play well, it doesn't matter about the past because he will not get into the lineup. But he's accepted that and he works hard, he's a competitor, he's willing to fight for his teammates, and that is something that we need. He plays a simple game and doesn't always get noticed, but he's appreciated by his teammates.
Do you need to have a big year from Erik Cole to make the playoffs this year?
I'll take a healthy Erik Cole first and worry about the play next. He broke his leg in game two last year, and that has a huge impact on our team. Go back to the year before when we got him. We were a good team before, but we were a really good team when he got here. He'll play with Staal at some points in time and I like him with Sutter as well. There's going to be a young centerman going into the three spot, and he might play there. Erik Cole does have to be a really good performer for us to win, but he is a good performer.
Do you foresee Pitkanen playing as many minutes per game as he did last season?
I see him playing the same major role, but not as many minutes. He's an interesting man, he's a very fit guy, and he'll tell you that when he hits 30 minutes, that's when he starts to feel good. But I have to believe that we can't look at this as a one game situation, we have to look at this over the course of the year. He has some history with injuries and surgeries, so we would like to keep him at the 24 minute mark, but we're going to have to sit with him. Because his argument is, and it's a good one, I need to play a certain number of minutes in order to perform at my highest, and he's right about that. The question is, how many times consecutively can you expect that to happen before we see a lull in that performance?
The powerplay has struggled at times. What does the team need to do to improve it?
Every hockey team has a different powerplay based upon the talent level of the hockey club. We really believe we will have strength from the top, from our blueline this year. Joe Corvo pounds it. Pitkanen has a great shot, he just looks to pass more often. We've seen Babchuk. I'm not sure we have seen a player like McBain with his ability to get the puck on net. So we have four guys back there that are powerplay guys and we have got some guys like Ruutu and Staal who don't mind going to the front of the net. The basic focus of our powerplay will be to get it to one of the big guys and have him pound it or drive it to the net. And at the end of it, I think what a powerplay has to have is confidence as a group that they are using their assets well. Sometimes if you have a bunch of finesse players, they try to snap the puck and pass it around, but I think these guys are going to understand that we want them to shoot the puck as hard and as often as they can, and they will be open to doing that.
(In Part 2, the team's "system" and loss of veteran presence in the locker room)