The season hasn’t gone the way anyone in the Carolina organization had planned. Pre-season injuries to Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner contributed to a winless month of October, which all but ended the Canes playoff chances almost before they began. Newly hired head coach Bill Peters was tested early, finding himself in a situation that he had never dealt with during his time with the Detroit Red Wings. At the end of the month, Peters commented on the team’s situation.
“We’ve got work to do. We’re not happy where we’re at, obviously. Hopefully we’ll get a few guys back in the lineup and go from there,” Peters said. “We need to reset, for sure, but we need to be honest about our commitment, focus and willingness to do what it takes to win.”
It was this mentality that caused general manager Ron Francis to hire Peters in the first place, and though it has taken longer than the organization and the fans may would have liked, the month of January has validated Peter’s belief in this team.
A Tale of Two Months
The Carolina Hurricanes went 0-8-2 in October, and for the most part, there weren’t a lot of positives to take away from it. Neither Cam Ward nor Anton Khudobin played well, the offense was inconsistent, and the defense was non-existent. In other words, it was the exact opposite of what the team has shown in January.
With their final game of the month tonight against the New York Rangers, the Hurricanes currently hold a 7-2-2 record in January. Both Ward and Khudobin, as well as the defense in general, have had excellent performances in the month, with 8 out of the 11 games holding their opponent to two or less goals. The offense is still inconsistent, but after scoring only 18 goals in 14 games in December, having multiple games of 2+ goals is a sight for sore eyes.Unsurprisingly, the best month of the Canes season has coincided with Jordan Staal’s return to the lineup. Getting a 2nd line center back in a lineup will help any time, especially one that handles so many aspects of the game with ease and confidence as Jordan does.
“We’re a better team offensively now that we have some pieces back,” Peters said. “We expected to score, and we’ve expected to score all year…We should be able to score more consistently in the second half.”
Of Icetime and MenConsistency is a tough thing to find in the NHL, but it’s something that Peters demands of his players. It’s that demand that has caused a bit of a stir in the lineup, in the media and in the fanbase. Alexander Semin has been in Peters’ doghouse since October, earning himself a couple healthy scratches in November as a result. Peters said at the time that he would have done it earlier, but didn’t have the guys in the lineup to do so. The scratch should come as no surprise, as Peters made his intentions regarding underperforming players clear at the press conference announcing his hiring.
“I have the ultimate hammer as a coach, and the hammer is the ice time…When it doesn’t all come together, I’m going to swing the hammer.”
“I have the ultimate hammer as a coach, and the hammer is the ice time,” said Peters. “They all want ice time, they all feel they deserve more ice time, they all want to play in the situations that match their skill set. I’m all for that as long as you’re going to give me the things that I need — the work ethic, the play away from the puck, the attention to detail…When it doesn’t all come together, I’m going to swing the hammer.”
And swing it he has. Semin has played in only 26 games this season, and spent more time in January in the press box than he did on the ice. Semin will get his chance for redemption tonight against the Rangers, but the way Peters has handled Semin has drawn the ire of some members of the Hurricanes fanbase. Not that it bothers him any.
“Well, it’s not frustrating for me. We just play the guys who dig in and work and play with speed in both directions and play hard. It’s not hard” said Peters.
In it for the Long Run
Peters also found himself under fire for his decision to pull Khudobin in last night’s game against the St. Louis Blues. The Canes had a terrible start to last night’s game, allowing the Blues to control the play from puck drop and finding themselves in a 2-0 deficit just 3:25 into the game. After David Backes scored to make it 2-0, Peters made the decision to pull Khudobin and put Cam Ward in net, even though Khudobin was hardly the issue with the way the Canes began the game.
Call a timeout there. Don't switch net minders when it was bad defense this early in.
— Section 328 (@Section_328) January 31, 2015
Once again, the coach explained his decision with a serene calm. He said after the game that the quick hook of his goaltender wasn’t a reflection of Khudobin’s play, but more of an attempt to stall the momentum that the Blues had quickly built. It seemed to have worked, as the Canes overcame the two-goal deficit to earn a point in the game.
Regardless of how Peters handles Semin, Khudobin, or even young winger Jeff Skinner, Canes fans should be prepared to deal with Peters for the long run. The Carolina organization has had a bad habit of blaming the coach for their failures, rather than the players, and it’s caused them to go through coaches like a teen girl goes through cell phone minutes. To make matters worse, those same coaches find success elsewhere. Look no future than how Peter Laviolette’s career has gone since leaving Carolina. The indication is that the next time Ron Francis swings his hammer, it won’t be at the coaches.
Whether it’s Semin adjusting his game or Peters allowing a bit more leeway, the two sides will likely have to deal with each other for the next few years at least. Someone will need to extend the olive branch and put their differences aside. Especially if the organization wants next year to wind up better than this one.
Jonathan Gardner currently lives in Raleigh, NC and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.