The beginning of the Kirk Muller era didn't offer a glimpse into what the future of the Carolina Hurricanes will be like with their new, first-time head coach. But it was a starting point. The Canes, like they have a lot this season, went into the third period in a tie game and came away with a loss, this time 3-1 to the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers.
Muller went status quo with the lines, with the only significant changes being the insertion of recently claimed Andreas Nodl on to the fourth line and Tomas Kaberle jumping back in the lineup for Jamie McBain, who was a healthy scratch. The loss kept Carolina at 20 points through 26 games with a record of 8-14-4.
1. Maybe Muller's biggest change on the night was having Rod Brind`Amour — along with Dave Lewis — on the bench with him while Tom Barrasso found a spot in the press box to observe the game from up high. With Brind`Amour saying at the start of his tenure as a Canes assistant that his commitment to coaching a Pee Wee team would keep him from being a full-time traveling coach, don't expect the former Carolina captain to assume a permanent spot alongside Muller this year. But Barrasso's move to the eagle's nest is very reminiscent of what happened when Paul Maurice replaced Peter Laviolette. Maurice moved assistant Kevin McCarthy off the bench to the press box, and when Laviolette was hired in Philadelphia McCarthy left to join him. Barrasso's situation is different from McCarthy’s — at the end of the day, Barrasso's biggest duty is handling the goalies — but perhaps Muller is already poised to make changes. It is worth noting that Perry Pearn, who was ran the Montreal power play and was fired by the team last month, is available and worked with Muller with the Canadiens. But is also set to be paid by the Habs through the 2012-13 season.
2. Carolina noticeably ramped up their physical play against the Panthers as they outhit Florida 25-13 on the night. Among those who upped the ante was Derek Joslin, who finished with three hits including a huge shot on Kris Versteeg that TSN's Darren Dreger tweeted will earn him a disciplinary hearing with Brendan Shanahan. There's no denying that Joslin delivered a blow to Versteeg's head, but the combination of size difference and the fact that Versteeg fell to one knee as Joslin was preparing to make the hit leads me to believe that Joslin will likely only face a fine, if anything, for his role in the play. Judge for yourself.
3. The Hurricanes’ fourth line was used about as much as it was most nights by Maurice, with Tim Brent, Anthony Stewart and Nodl combining for 21:53. Brent was reliable as always, and Stewart was the most noticeable, although sometimes out of position due to his aggression. Nodl showed off his world-class speed, but it's not yet fair to access him based on a game that saw him play with all new teammates who were all playing under a brand new coach. It will be interesting to see how Muller uses his fourth line — and who winds up on it — once the coach has a chance to determine what he has to work with.
Number To Know
20 — Missed shots for the Hurricanes, a problem that has replaced the team's poor faceoff percentage from last year as the growing issue on a nightly basis. Carolina has accumulated 70 missed shots in the past four games, and they are missing opportunities to finish off plays.
Alexei Ponikarovsky — Let's forget that Ponikarovsky lost an edge on what turned into an easy empty netter for the Panthers to seal the game — those things happen. Ponikarovsky was active all night with several chances to score, and he was doing it right from where he needs to be: within a stick's length of the goalie. The Carolina forward finished with three shots and three hits on the night in 16:32 and played the kind of game he needs to in order to be successful.
Tomas Kaberle — Kaberle's part in the game-winning goal is obvious: he lost track of Shawn Matthias after he assumed his clearing attempt would exit the zone. Mistakes happen. But even more bothersome is that these mistakes are coming without the benefit of Kaberle's bread-and-butter power play point production. The Canes were held without a goal in five man advantages, and Kaberle's job is to make them good on the power play. The Canes aren't, and therefore Kaberle isn't earning his keep.