The Florida Panthers want to play like the defending Stanley Cup champions, and they didn’t feel that Gerard Gallant was the right coach to show them how.
“This team is built for speed and skill,” interim head coach Tom Rowe said Monday. “That’s the way the National Hockey League is going. All you have to do is watch what Pittsburgh did last year, the way they played, the way they attacked the puck, the way they made every step of the opponent difficult, by pressuring, is how we want to play.”
Gerrard was fired yesterday after a 3-2 loss in Carolina — a game the Panthers led 2-0 after the first period.
“After we collapsed in the second period last night, it came to a head a lot quicker,” said Rowe, who will relinquish his general manager duties to Dale Tallon, Eric Joyce and Steve Werier in order to focus “totally” on coaching.
Though Rowe rejected the notion that there was any “friction” between Gallant and the front office, he did concede there were differences in opinions.
“There was definitely a philosophical divide,” said Rowe. “We wanted to develop a team and build a team that was fast, that moved the puck quickly, attack the offensive net and pressure the puck in all three zones. Gerard and I talked about it, he said he wanted to get a little more size. And we decided to go in a different direction.”
It’s no secret that the Panthers have taken an analytics-based approach to building their team, with the full support of ownership. At the end of last season, Tallon was “promoted” to president of hockey ops, with Rowe becoming the new GM.
“Obviously, we changed some dynamics on our team,” Gallant said prior to the start of the season. “We’re more puck movers, more skill, quicker. Hopefully, that pays off.”
But it hasn’t so far. The Panthers are 11-10-1 after 22 games, just outside the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Though they’ve had a number of key injuries, the decision was still made to relieve Gallant of his duties.
“We took everything into consideration in our meeting at the quarterly point of the season,” said Tallon, “and as a group we decided we want to go in a different direction.”
The Panthers play the second game of a six-game road trip Tuesday in Chicago. Rowe said he plans to “tweak” his team’s defensive-zone system, but doesn’t want to introduce too many changes right away.
“Defensively, we want to fix that area first,” said Rowe.
But the real key will be pace.
“We want to be a fast team. And when I say fast, it doesn’t just mean skating. We want to move the puck quickly. We want to defend quickly,” said Rowe. “We’ve gotta practice faster, we’ve gotta practice harder and then that’s going to carry over into the games.”