By Michael Smith
Charlotte, NC Feb. 22, 2013 – After a period in which the Carolina Hurricanes played just three games in 10 days, Saturday begins a stretch of nine games in 15 days for the team.
It will be a playoff-like segment, with games every other day and two sets of back-to-back games.
The schedule breaks up a bit more toward the end of March before April ignites a mad sprint to game No. 48.
“The adjustment is more in how you manage your practice time,” Muller said of the packed schedule. “Just like that road trip, we had a lot of days off. You get your energy there and save it for the games. We’re aware of the schedule. You look at the pockets where you have a couple of days and work on stuff, just like today.
“When you’re not playing much, I think it was more trying to keep the intensity level up to carry it into the game, and I thought we had it last night.”
A Change in Net
Muller said Dan Ellis will get the start in net on Saturday against Tampa Bay, his fifth start this season. In five games played, Ellis is 3-1 with a 1.74 goals-against average, a .943 save percentage and one shutout. In his last start on Feb. 14 against Toronto, Ellis made 22 saves on 23 shots en route to a 3-1 victory.
Ellis, who has logged two career games against the Bolts with a 2.98 goals-against average and a .878 save percentage, played in 31 games with Tampa Bay in the 2010-11 season. He was 13-7-6 with a 2.93 goals-against average and a 0.889 save percentage.
Tim Gleason (lower-body, day-to-day) and Joni Pitkanan (lower-body, day-to-day) practiced with the Hurricanes on Friday. Gleason, who has missed the last three games, put in a pre-practice workout with assistant coach Dave Lewis and remained on the ice with the team.
“Giving them both a skate today to see where they’re at,” Muller said. “It’s day-to-day, and we’ll see how they respond tomorrow. We’ll see if we can get them in this weekend.”
If either is unable to play on Saturday, the Hurricanes know they have a capable defenseman in 19-year-old Ryan Murphy, who logged nearly 24 minutes of ice time in his NHL debut.
“We have a lot of confidence in his game,” Muller said. “He did a lot of things really well. In saying that, we’re missing some key veteran guys that we’d obviously love to have back. Ideally, we’d love to have everyone healthy. That’d be a nice problem to have.”
The Hurricanes practiced today in their black gear, as Saturday marks the first of seven third jersey nights for the team.
Before their six-game road trip, the Canes spent a few practices breaking in the gear. But for guys like Michal Jordan, who was recalled just eight days ago, one practice isn’t ideal for getting comfortable with new equipment.
Jordan said he has worn the same shoulder and elbow pads for upwards of three years. On a heady veteran tip from Ellis, Jordan put his gloves in the steam room for awhile to expedite the breaking-in process.
Beautiful. Amazing. Jaw-dropping. Elite. All of these adjectives and many more can describe Alexander Semin’s pass to Jiri Tlusty in the first period on Thursday. It was a highlight-reel play, and will likely be the best pass you see in the NHL this season.
Eric Staal gathered the puck along the boards on a turnover and found Semin. Zach Bogosian, knowing he was likely caught in an odd-man situation, dropped his stick to the ice to sever Semin’s chances of making a forehand feed. A patient Semin curled the puck through his legs – and through Bogosian’s legs – to find Tlusty’s outstretched stick for the tap-in goal.
“That you can’t teach,” Muller said. “That’s up there with an elite few that can make those plays.
“He might be our top playmaker on our team.”
Muller offered the comparison to Brett Hull, who he played with in Dallas between 1999-2001.
“Brett really loved to make plays, and he was a way better playmaker than people realized,” Muller said. “I didn’t realize it until I played with him.”
A heavy shot – which Muller wants to see more of – and elite playmaking skills aren’t the only tools Semin possesses. At plus-11, ranking tied for second on the team, Semin is a sound defensive mind, as well.
“I know now why he’s a plus-player: he reads the game pretty good,” Muller said. “He’s not your typical … defensive forward, but he understands the game, and he’s a smart player.”