Commentary

Point Shots: New coach should inject life into Hurricanes' power play

Updated: December 4, 2008, 4:45 PM ET
By Jim Wilkie | Special to ESPN.com

New coach Paul Maurice takes over the Hurricanes at a pivotal point in the season. At 12-11-2, Carolina holds the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 26 points, just three behind Southeast Division leader Washington but also just three ahead of division doormat Florida.

So after Peter Laviolette was fired as coach Tuesday, what effect will this have on your fantasy team?

"Whenever a coach leaves, there's going to be a group of guys who think this is an opportunity to do more," Maurice told the Raleigh News and Observer. "All you want is for your players to perform as hard as they can. … I want them to work together."

That would be a nice change, especially for any fantasy owner suffering through Eric Staal's 15 points and one power-play goal, Sergei Samsonov's eight points and minus-7, or Rod Brind'Amour's minus-18 through 25 games.

Bringing in Maurice for his second stint with the franchise might puzzle some who would rather see a fresh face and new perspective (are there any more Todd McLellans out there?). But only Brind'Amour, Staal, Niclas Wallin and Ryan Bayda played for Maurice before, so for many players, Maurice is a badly needed change.

And nowhere is change needed more than on the 29th-ranked power play (12.9 percent), which is 0-for-25 the past six games and has scored once in the past 34 chances. Assistant GM Ron Francis, who is coming in as an associate coach, has been enlisted to try to fix it.

Even before Laviolette was fired, Francis was on the ice during practice Monday to help the Hurricanes work on the power play, according to The News and Observer.

On Monday, according to the paper, the first power-play unit was Justin Williams, Ray Whitney, Brind'Amour, Matt Cullen and Kaberle, while the second unit was Staal, Tuomo Ruutu, Samsonov, Joe Corvo and Joni Pitkanen.

"What I see is that we'll try one thing, and if it doesn't work, we try something different," Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford told The News and Observer on Monday. "We'll try five different things, and if they don't work, we go back to the first thing again and try it again.

"We need to stick to a plan. We need to simplify. We need to go back to the basics; get pucks to the net, tip it, get people in front of the net, get the rebounds."

Entrusting Francis with the task is a good start, but unfortunately, Maurice can't put the Hall of Famer out with the man advantage. But Maurice will soon have one addition to the lineup that poor Laviolette went without for much of the past season and a half.

Justin Williams
Gregg Forwerck/NHLI/Getty ImagesBefore missing the better part of this season and last, Justin Williams played all 82 games in back-to-back seasons.

Williams might make his season debut against the Penguins on Thursday night in Maurice's first game back. Williams, who played just 37 games last season because of a knee injury that required reconstructive surgery, was expected to be out four to six months after he tore an Achilles tendon in a workout before training camp in September.

"There is a chance he could play this week," Rutherford told The News and Observer. "We have a couple of practices coming up. We'll see how he does in those practices and then determine when he can play."

Coming off two major surgeries is good reason to be cautious, but the two-time 30-goal scorer is just reaching his prime at 27. When he's healthy, Williams produces great numbers for fantasy hockey. Since 2005-06, Williams has 73 goals (22 on the power play) and 100 assists and is minus-8 in 201 games.

He is owned in just 12.9 percent of ESPN leagues, so if you have a spot open, take him before someone else does. Choose his starts carefully as he gets back up to speed, but he'll have every opportunity to produce in a top-six forward role right away.

His return might push the club's leading scorer, Whitney (17 points), to the third line, where in the past he was an offensive threat on the checking unit. Ideally, that scenario will be positive for scoring depth and open things up for the first two lines.

Maurice also inherits problems in net. Cam Ward's groin injury, suffered Sunday in a 4-1 loss to Anaheim, is another situation fantasy owners need to watch carefully. Michael Leighton steps in and will be worth picking up for your bench only if Maurice can work some magic.

But with the Penguins, Flyers and Capitals on tap in the next four days, don't be so daring as to start Leighton, who is 4-4-0 with a 2.99 goals-against average and .898 save percentage.

"It's never fun to see your No. 1 goalie get hurt (but) it's an opportunity for me to play," Leighton told The News and Observer. "It's (bad) for our team, obviously, because Cam has been playing really well the last three or four games.

Michael Leighton
Gregg Forwerck/NHLI/Getty ImagesMichael Leighton is 15-28-10 with a 3.01 goals-against average and .900 save percentage in 58 career games.

"We just need to get a win any way we can these next two or three games and obviously I have to do my part and play well. … I have to go one at a time and the first one's Pittsburgh. Right now it's just all about this team right now and we need to win hockey games, regardless if it's 6-5 or 10-5. We just need to win games."

Justin Peters, 22, will be his backup after being called up from AHL Albany, where the 2004 second-round pick was 3-7-2 with a 2.79 goals-against average, a .911 save percentage and one shutout this season.

Another important number is the 14,843 fans the Hurricanes average in home attendance, 24th in the league. Their 79.2 percent capacity is 27th, and they drew just 14,191 to see the loss to the Ducks and have surpassed 15,000 just once in their past eight games.

With the average attendance needed to earn revenue-sharing reportedly at 14,000 this season, something had to be done to energize the fan base before it was too late. A 6-7-0 home record hasn't helped either.

Those aren't relevant fantasy hockey numbers -- unless you're in some ultra-geeky attendance/salary cap league I've never heard of -- but they will have an effect on the Hurricanes and fantasy lineups.

Before Laviolette was fired, Rutherford had been shopping forward Patrick Eaves and defensemen Corvo and Kaberle in an effort to dump cash, according to the Ottawa Sun. The Carolina GM is not done making moves after the coaching change, and the bottom line will have an effect on every deal because of the shaky economy.

Making the playoffs and getting extra postseason revenue is the highest priority, but if that looks less likely closer to the March trading deadline, more high-priced veterans will be on the move.

Rolston readies for return

Devils forward Brian Rolston is expected back in the lineup Thursday night against the Flyers, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.

"I'm assuming he will (play)," Devils coach Brent Sutter told The Star-Ledger on Wednesday. "Unless something comes up (to change things). But I'm assuming he will be."

Rolston, who has missed 18 games with a right ankle sprain, returned to practice Monday, the paper reported.

"I feel good. I feel real good," Rolston told The Star-Ledger on Wednesday. "My gut feeling is that I'll be in (the lineup) tomorrow."

Rolston, who had a goal and an assist in four games this season, was practicing with the first power-play unit on the point alongside fellow forward Jamie Langenbrunner, according to The Star-Ledger.

Sutter told the paper "it's possible" he might try that against the Flyers. The five-forward power-play is rare but has helped the Blues become the third-best team with the man advantage (23.7 percent). The Devils rank 27th with a horrible 13.9 percent success rate.

Radim Vrbata
Scott Audette/NHLI/Getty ImagesRadim Vrbata's relunctance to get his hands dirty may cost him valuable ice time.

The more things change …

Lightning coach Rick Tocchet is finding the same frustrations as Barry Melrose, who was fired earlier this season.

Forward Radim Vrbata, one of Tampa's big offseason acquisitions after he scored 27 goals and 56 points for Phoenix last season, was a healthy scratch Tuesday against the Flyers.

"He is not getting the loose pucks and we need production," Tocchet told the St. Petersburg Times regarding Vrbata, who has three goals and three assists in 17 games. "We just can't have Vinny Lecavalier (10 goals), Martin St. Louis (five) and Ryan Malone (seven) always supplying us the goals and the last three-four games that's what we're getting from those guys, and nobody else.

"So the way I look at it, if you're not coming up with loose pucks right now, then you're not going to play."

Vrbata often was in the doghouse during Melrose's brief stint with the Lightning but was briefly rejuvenated when Tocchet took over.

"I know I can play better and the coaches feel the same," Vrbata told the Times.

Luongo ahead of schedule

Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, who is recovering from a groin strain, was on the ice with goalie consultant Ian Clark for nearly an hour Tuesday, according to The Vancouver Sun.

"If you had asked me if I thought I'd be skating at this time last week when I had the press conference, my answer would have been no," Luongo told paper. "If you want to say I'm ahead of schedule, I guess yes."

The Canucks have described the outlook for Luongo's return as week-to-week, so anxious fantasy owners of the superstar, such as myself, are encouraged by the news.

"We're going to take it to another level tomorrow and do a little bit more down work and put some more tension on that leg," Clark told the paper Tuesday. "He seemed very resilient today so we'll see how a little extra down work goes tomorrow."

Luongo was injured in the first period Nov. 22 at Pittsburgh.

"The first thing will be me shooting because I can control everything and he can start to feel those pucks," Clark told the Sun. "And then he starts to react to, from a recovery perspective, some of those shots and then we'll get into the guys shooting in a controlled environment.

"Then the next stage he'll be getting into practice. I think we'll have another day on the ice without shooting tomorrow and get into some controlled shooting after that and hopefully we'll get him into some team shooting within the week."

Quality time

Fantasy owners of Wild tough guy Derek Boogaard certainly don't expect him to help in the time-on-ice category, but his three-second shift Saturday in a fight-filled tilt with the Predators is one of the more humorous box score lines this season.

"And I think that was generous," Boogard told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "That must have been a long whistle."

After Predators forward Scott Nichol picked a fight with the Wild's Stephane Veilleux in the second period, Boogaard went out for the next faceoff and promptly got in a fight with Nashville's Wade Belak.

At least he helped somebody's penalty-minutes category.

Jim Wilkie is a former NHL editor and writer for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him at espnpucks@comcast.net.

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