Panthers-Hurricanes Preview

An offseason coaching change has helped the Florida Panthers

reach the top of the Southeast Division.

The Carolina Hurricanes are hoping an in-season one will help

them climb out of last place.

Kirk Muller makes his debut as Hurricanes coach Tuesday night

when these division rivals meet for the first time in 2011-12.

Under first-year coach Kevin Dineen, Florida (12-7-4) has

emerged as the surprising early Southeast leader as it attempts to

reach the playoffs for the first time since 2000.

The Panthers were likely taking notice Monday on a day of

upheaval in the division. Washington replaced Bruce Boudreau with

Dale Hunter while Carolina (8-13-4) got rid of Paul Maurice in

favor of Muller.

Muller’s first NHL head coaching job begins with a slumping team

that has made one playoff appearance since 2006, and has lost 10 of

13 games.

“It’s very simple: you’ve got to get guys to believe in the

system,” Muller said. “You’ve got to get them to believe in being

accountable for each other. And if you can come every night and you

create that culture, and you give them something, a way to believe

in how they play and why you’re going to win that night, I think

that’s what players want.”

General manager Jim Rutherford said he reached his decision to

fire Maurice following the Hurricanes’ 4-0 loss at Montreal on Nov.

16.

“We may win (Tuesday) night, we may not, but really what I want

to see is on a consistent basis, we have that work ethic,”

Rutherford said. “And when we get to that consistent basis, the

wins will come and they will come in streaks.”

Muller’s biggest task may be getting the best out of center Eric

Staal, who is off to a slow start with 11 points and is minus-17 on

the season. Carolina also has a power play that is the league’s

second-worst at 12.2 percent.

The Hurricanes could be facing the right opponent to get

untracked against since they went 4-1-1 in the 2010-11 season

series with the Panthers. All three games in the RBC Center were

decided by one goal.

Florida is trying to avoid a season-high third straight loss

after being swept over the weekend in a home-and-home set against

Tampa Bay. The Panthers went 0 for 10 on the power play, including

six chances in Saturday’s 5-1 defeat.

“I would just say our power play was a pretty good example of

our overall game that we didn’t have much jump out there,” Dineen

told the Panthers’ official website.

The Panthers were outshot by an average of eight in the two

losses. Top scorer Kris Versteeg came up empty after amassing 13

points over a 5-2-0 stretch preceding the games against the

Lightning.

“We need to get back to the way we’ve been successful, and we

didn’t do that for the last four or five periods,” Dineen said.

Florida is expected to start Jose Theodore, 5-2-0 with a 2.31

goals-against average in seven road starts. Carolina’s Cam Ward is

8-2-1 with a 2.80 GAA in 13 career home starts against the

Panthers.