Jason Brough


A ‘philosophical divide’ led to Gallant firing


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.”

Read more: Did Gallant’s plea for more toughness cost him his job?

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.

Not long after, the Panthers began the dramatic reshaping of their defense, which included the trading of big, tough Erik Gudbranson and the signing of puck-movers Keith Yandle and Jason Demers.

“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.”

Related: The Penguins played great defense their own way

Eichel could make season debut Tuesday in Ottawa


Barring a last-minute setback, Jack Eichel is likely to make his season debut tomorrow in Ottawa.

The Buffalo Sabres forward started practicing with his teammates last week, and he’s progressed from there.

“He responded well,” said head coach Dan Bylsma, per John Vogl of The Buffalo News. “He looks really good.”

Eichel, 20, suffered a high-ankle sprain during practice on Oct. 12, the day before the Sabres’ season-opener. He was expected to miss 6-8 weeks, so his return tomorrow would be within that time frame.

The Sabres (7-9-5) could certainly use his offense, given they’re averaging the fewest goals per game (1.81) in the league.

If Eichel plays, expect him to skate with Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart on his wings.

Ryan O'Reilly will center the other top line, between Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo.

Spezza could be a fourth-liner tonight


Jason Spezza logged just 11:04 of ice time in Friday’s 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks, and the veteran Stars forward may find himself on the fourth line tonight in St. Louis.

“He’s really struggled the past couple games, so the ice time went down,” Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said, per team beat writer Mark Stepneski.

Ruff added that Spezza “needs to make better [puck] decisions.” In 15 games, the 33-year-old is a team-worst minus-11, with four goals and four assists.

At yesterday’s practice, Spezza was on a fourth line centered by Adam Cracknell, with Curtis McKenzie on the other wing. Suffice to say, that’s a big cap hit ($7.5 million) to be skating in the bottom six.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, given it’s been such a turbulent start for the Stars. It’s not just the goaltending that’s been poor; the team as a whole has not performed like it did last season.

Injuries have certainly been a factor — Spezza himself missed seven games with a lower-body injury — but the Stars also lost defensemen Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers to free agency, and forward Valeri Nichushkin to the KHL.

After 23 games, the Stars are a modest 9-8-5, outside the playoff picture in the Western Conference, with a score-adjusted Corsi that ranks 25th in the league.

Last season, their score-adjusted Corsi finished fourth and they won the Central Division.

“It’s hard to make up points down the stretch. We’ve seen that. So the game in November is just as important as the game in March,” Spezza told the Dallas Morning News recently. “That’s why you see so much intensity now, because every game is so important. If you lose two in a row in this league, you’re desperate because you can change five places in the standings. While it’s not that important to get a top seed, there still is the desire there to win every game. You have to have that.”

Don’t tell Torts, but the Jackets’ Corsi has been really good lately

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John Tortorella may not have any time for “the Corsi and the Fenwick,” but his Columbus Blue Jackets are starting to show well in those possession stats. And wouldn’t you know it? Their record has been pretty good, too.

In the Jackets’ last 12 games — starting with that 10-0 win over Montreal on Nov. 4 — they have the NHL’s eighth-highest score-adjusted Corsi, per Puck On Net. Columbus is 7-2-3 over that stretch and currently occupies the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

On Saturday, the Jackets fell 2-1 in the shootout at Florida, but they outshot the Panthers, 37-23.

Individually, Brandon Saad leads the Jackets with a 56.2 percent Corsi. He scored the tying goal in Florida, his sixth goal of the season. Nick Foligno (53.4%) and rookie d-man Zach Werenski (52.9%) have also fared well in the Corsi department.

Meanwhile, Sergei Bobrovksy (11-5-2, .929) has been very good in goal all season, but he’s had to do far less work of late. In his last six starts, he’s averaged just 23.5 shots against. That compares to his first six starts, when it was 32.8.

Read more: Werenski learning the rigors of an NHL schedule

Tortorella was pleased with how his team performed on Saturday.

“To hang in there, stick in there in the third period and find a way to score a goal, get a point, we’ll go home feeling pretty good about ourselves the way we grinded away here in a busy week,” Tortorella told reporters.

It’s going to get even busier soon. The Jackets host Tampa Bay Tuesday. After that, it’s 14 games in the month of December, starting Thursday in Colorado.

Senators ‘can’t ask for better’ with shutout win at MSG


NEW YORK (AP) Despite playing less than 24 hours before, Craig Anderson wanted to be in net when the Ottawa Senators took on the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

The goalie got his wish and made 33 saves in a 2-0 shutout victory Sunday night. Anderson is 7-1-1 in nine regular-season starts at Madison Square Garden.

“It’s New York man,” Anderson said. “It’s one of those buildings there’s a lot of history. Great team over there and it’s one of those things you just get up for. The historic buildings who knows how long they’ll be around for. You’re fortunate enough to be a part of it and that’s kind of the way I address that mentally.”

Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Mark Stone scored in the second period.

Ottawa improved to 6-3 in the road. It also improved to 3-0 in the second night of back-to-back sets.

“To have to play here back to back on the road and get a team that’s been firing from all cylinders,” Senators coach Guy Boucher said. “One of the best offensive teams in the league and to get a shutout you can’t ask for better.”

Pageau scored 1:54 into the second. Zach Smith worked the puck behind the Rangers’ net to Tom Pyatt, who drew in two defenders and fed Pageau in front of the net for his third goal of the season.

“It was a really nice play by (Smith) and Pyatt nice pass,” Pageau said. “I was just trying to put it on net and that was in our game plan. Go in the blue paint and try to put pucks on net. So that’s what I tried to do.”

The Senators scored again on a power play. Stone fired a wrist shot from inside the faceoff circle for his sixth goal of the season.

Rangers goalie Antti Raanta made 18 saves in his first loss of the season. He was making his first start since Nov. 21 against Pittsburgh.

The Rangers were 8-0-1 at home through their first nine games before going 0-3-1 in their last four games at Madison Square Garden.

New York’s power play struggled against the Senators, going 0 for 4. The Senators were 1 for 3.

“We had a couple power plays with some open nets and when a team is playing that good defensively,” Derek Stepan said. “They didn’t make a single mistake – you have to execute perfectly all the way to your dumps. We just were a little off and they defended extremely well and that’s the story tonight.”

Ottawa forward Derick Brassard played against the Rangers for the first time since he was traded over the summer. New York sent Brassard to Ottawa on July 18 for Mika Zibanejad and a draft pick.

“I’m really thankful for the fans here and for appreciating my work here the last four years,” Brassard said.