CHICAGO — Florida Panthers general manager Tom Rowe and his bosses in the front office did not like the way the season was unfolding after the first quarter of the season.
Instead of waiting any longer, the group decided it was time to make a change. Coach Gerard Gallant was fired after two-plus seasons behind the bench, and Rowe — the team's first-year general manager — was named interim coach for the remainder of the season.
Rowe will make his NHL head coaching debut Tuesday when the Panthers (11-10-1) visit the Chicago Blackhawks (14-6-3). The 60-year-old served as an assistant coach in the NHL and a head coach in the AHL before joining the Panthers' front-office staff this year.
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With Rowe as the new coach, the Panthers' general manager duties will be split among team president Dale Tallon and assistant general managers Eric Joyce and Steve Werier.
“The priority today, and it's going to be every day, is to get us into the playoffs,” Rowe told reporters Monday. “What we do going forward, we'll worry about that in the offseason. There is just too much inconsistency.
“I'm not saying that's Gerard's fault. That falls on all of us. It falls on me. It falls on the players. It falls on the other coaches. At the end of the day, we've just got to get this team on track. We think we have a very good team, but there are things we have to get moving in a different direction, and we have to get them moving quicker.”
The Blackhawks know a thing or two about quickness.
Chicago has tallied 31 points in its first 23 games to jump atop the Western Conference's Central Division. The club has won three Stanley Cup championships in seven seasons and seems to be well on its way to its ninth consecutive playoff appearance.
Not everything has been perfect for the Blackhawks this season as they return to home ice for the first time in more than two weeks. Center Jonathan Toews, the team's star captain, has missed the past two games because of an upper-body injury and is questionable to play against the Panthers.
Toews did not practice Monday. He has 12 points (4 G, 8 A) in 21 games this season and serves as the team's best faceoff option as well as a valuable penalty killer.
“When you're missing a guy like that, you've got to find other ways to work around it,” center Marcus Kruger told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I think we did a good job (in the last two games), but we obviously want him back as soon as we can.”
Corey Crawford is expected to start in net for the Blackhawks. He is 10-6-2 with a 2.31 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage this season. He will be rested because Scott Darling made a spot start in the team's road finale Saturday against Los Angeles.
For the Panthers, veteran Roberto Luongo is likely to make his 15th start of the season. Luongo is 8-6-0 with a 2.20 GAA and a .925 save percentage.
The Blackhawks are 8-1-2 at home this season. The Panthers are 4-6-1 on the road.
Rowe knows he has to win over his players, as well as skeptics who believe that Gallant was treated unfairly after leading the team to a 103-point finish one season ago.
“I've got to lay out what our plan is and how we're going to do things differently,” Rowe said. “The reason the players loved Gerard so much is he treated them with respect, he held them accountable. I'm not too much different than that. I think anybody wants to be treated with respect, and when you treat people with respect, you get the respect back. That's what we're going to do as a coaching staff and that's what we plan to do moving forward.”