One of the fun things you can do when your team changes coaches about a quarter way through the season is compare how the new guy is performing compared to who is replacing. The general consensus among Carolina fans is that new coach Kirk Muller is doing a fantastic job and is more suited for this team than Paul Maurice. Despite those claims, the Hurricanes performance under Muller hasn’t changed much compared to how they played under Maurice. They are controlling possession at about the same rate and are only roughly a win better under Muller, and that extra win likely came from Cam Ward standing on his head for all of January.
However, I think it is safe to say that the Hurricanes main issue is talent and not coaching because you can only do so much with players like Jiri Tlusty and Alexei Ponikarovsky in your top-six and a defense corps where Tim Gleason is your best player. Muller can’t control who he has on the team but what he can do is control how he uses them. With the help of Time On Ice’s “team faceoff” option, we can look at how the Hurricanes two coaches this year have been using their players by seeing how often they deploy them in the offensive and defensive zone respectively. You will see some huge differences between Muller and Maurice’s strategies.
Below you will see the team’s forwards and defensemen along with their offensive zone start percentage under both Maurice and Muller. This will give us an idea of how the coaches were using each player and whether or not they were using their strengths to the team’s advantage. One quick note before we get into things: The Hurricanes have seen roughly a 4.6% increase in offensive zone starts ever since Muller took over, which shows that the team is playing better territorially…or getting more icing calls. Could be one or the other.
Anyway, here are the numbers for the forwards:
- Paul Maurice’s use of Skinner, Ruutu and Jokinen is almost baffling in retrospect. The team was struggling to score while he was coach and he was making matters worse by constantly starting three of the team’s better goal-scorers in the defensive zone. That has changed drastically under Muller and I like it like this, personally. I know that Jokinen is an underrated defensive player but we need him scoring right now and Ruutu’s actually been heavily protected ever since Muller took over, which could have been one of the reasons why he had that scoring outburst in December.
- Eric Staal’s usage under both coaches has stayed relatively the same. He is playing tough minutes but his zone starts have been relatively easy this year.
- The other thing that’s stayed the same is how both coaches are using Brandon Sutter and Patrick Dwyer as defensive specialists. Both have been buried in the defensive zone all season and matched up against opposing team’s top lines. They are two bright spots for the Hurricanes this year.
- Muller has opted to use Chad LaRose as more of a defensive forward and use him in the bottom-six, which is opposite to the top-six minutes that he got under Maurice.
- Conversely, Muller tried to get the most out of Alexei Ponikarovsky by feeding him more offensive zone starts instead of utilizing his defensive game like Maurice did. Unfortunately, this gamble didn’t work that well for Muller as Poni still struggled to find any kind of scoring touch.
- The addition of Andreas Nodl is pretty important because it gave Muller another forward he could utilize in the defensive zone more along with Sutter & Dwyer, which has allowed him to free up his top two lines to easier minutes. You can see that it’s had a big effect on guys like Jokinen, Ruutu, Tlusty and Skinner.
For defensemen, it’s less interesting
- Bryan Allen has been getting softer zone starts under Muller but he’s still starting most of his shifts in his own end.
- Just about every defenseman got more favorable zone starts when Muller took over and I guess this is a ripple effect of the team’s territorial game improving as the Canes aren’t starting shifts in the defensive zone all the time now.
- You can see that McBain’s zone starts have gotten easier under Muller as well but he’s really the only extreme case here. Faulk didn’t play enough games under Maurice to make a comparison and Harrison’s increase in offensive zone starts is a result of playing with Faulk. However, it is pretty easy to define who the tough minute d-men (Gleason/Allen), the second-tier pair (Faulk/Harrison) and the protected guys (McBain/Spacek/Joslin) are under Muller.
It seems that Muller knows what he is doing when it comes to which guys he wants playing in certain situations so I’m excited to see what he can do with some better pieces.