Carolina Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller held his end-of-season press conference on Wednesday and seemed fairly pleased with where his team is at, considering he has yet to make the playoffs. He said that he is very optimistic about next year and feels the team is heading in the right direction.
Muller seemed to blame injuries on the reason the team is not in the playoffs and said that the club needs to keep the "man games lost" stat down in order to be more successful.
The coach was asked repeatedly about his relationship with his players and he said that from his side, he felt like he had a good relationship with them, both the younger and older groups.
He pointed out that the team's goals allowed per game stat had dropped from last season's atrocious 3.31 per game average to 2.7 this year. "That puts us right where many of the current playoff teams are at" the coach said.
He also said that the younger players had played better of late and should continue to improve under his watch. While special teams have been an issue, especially the powerplay, he pointed out that since the Olympics break, things had improved.
According to the coach, the Hurricanes were buzzing right along until both goalies got hurt and Jeff Skinner went down, within a five day period earlier in the season. But he did admit that Justin Peters was able to keep the team in the mix and proved that he was an NHL caliber goalie.
There is at least one major problem with the injury excuse by the coach, (and the owner).
At the Olympics break, the team had a 26-22-9 record, which was good for 61 points and they were only two points outside of a playoff spot. (Both the Caps and Blue Jackets had 63 points). But the team went on a losing streak when returning from the break and slid down hill big time from there. They were mostly healthy at this time, or at least, the regulars were playing.
The fact that Joni Pitkanen was lost for the season threw the "man games lost" stat out of kilter, but the team had the chance to sign Ron Hainsey to fill in for the Finn, so that injury should not be counted as an excuse either.
Every team faces injuries, some more than others. Last year the Senators overcame major injuries and this season both the Penguins and Red Wings faced them.
Anton Khudobin said it best during his interview. (paraphrasing) "Excuses are just words. It takes actions to make the playoffs, anything else is just words."
Muller should be given credit for keeping things upbeat and looking at the positives. He mentioned that he still believed in his system and that it will work when it is played properly. But is he being realistic? When his team is inconsistent about being successful using his system, what are the reasons for the inconsistencies? These must be examined and explained as well.
It is not good enough to say that it is evident the system works well just because the Canes can beat the best teams in the league, sometimes. Why do things not go well at other times? Are these players incapable of playing the system successfully on a consistent basis?
Consistency is the key to success, not being able to beat the good team sometimes.
Muller was also asked about the team's continual slow starts to which he had no reasoning. "We have tried everything, morning skates and no mornings skates. This is one of the things our staff will look more closely at during the offseason," he said.
Will the coach return next season or not? So far, it looks like he will.
Check out the entire 42 minute press conference at CH.com.