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Five Questions With...

Five Questions with Tom Rowe

Panthers coach, general manager on approach to upcoming schedule, NHL Trade Deadline

by Dan Rosen @DRosenNHL / Senior Writer's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Florida Panthers general manager and coach Tom Rowe:

Tom Rowe is the Florida Panthers general manager, so like all of his counterparts at this time, he should be busy making and fielding calls and scouring the market with the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline approaching on March 1.

He's doing no such thing.

Rowe's most important task now is serving as the Panthers' coach, a title he's held since Nov. 27, when he replaced Gerard Gallant. His hands are full trying to get the Panthers to continue climbing up the Eastern Conference standings toward a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so everything he normally would be doing as GM is now being done by his boss, president of hockey operations Dale Tallon, who was Florida's GM for six years before Rowe took over in May.

"That's totally in Dale's hands 100 percent now," Rowe said in a phone interview from San Jose on Monday. "He's on the road with us so we talk all the time anyway. He's got a lot of relationships obviously with the GMs and he's been through this more than once so he'll field all the calls. If he thinks he has something that makes sense then he'll talk to all of us about it. But he's the guy steering the ship as far as the trading deadline goes and things like that going forward."

Rowe, who is a first-year GM, is content with the role reversal because he knows how well respected Tallon is in the League and because the Panthers are playing better now, to the point where Tallon may look to add a piece or two instead of subtracting.

Florida has won four of its past five games to get within three points of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card position in the Eastern Conference and fourth place in the Atlantic Division.

The Panthers are in California for three games this week, starting against the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV). They're also at the Anaheim Ducks on Friday and the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday. They close their five-game road trip at the St. Louis Blues on Monday.

"If we're looking at anything maybe it's trying to find a little bit of depth, that'd be about it," Rowe said. "We like the team we've got now and the fact that we can roll three lines and create offense from all three lines. Even our fourth line has been giving us real good minutes. If something comes along and we think it's a good fit for us depth-wise than we're going to definitely look at it, but we like the mix, the chemistry and the way the guys are coming together now. We don't really want to mess with that too much."

Tallon said he's not concerned with his role following the season.

"Honestly I'm not even thinking about it," Rowe said. "The agreement I had with [owner] Vinnie [Viola] and Dale and [vice president] Doug Cifu was just to come in for the rest of the year and focus on getting into the playoffs. When everything is finished we'll sit down and talk about it at the end of the year."

Rowe talked more about the Panthers' recent revival, how they got back into the playoff race and what they need to do to stay in it.

Here are Five Questions with…Tom Rowe:

Obviously the team is playing better and has found its way back in the race. Health was a major concern and it's now a plus, but beyond the health issue, what's the difference now? Why is this team playing better minus the blip against Los Angeles?

"I think we're playing a lot more desperate. The guys understand what we want them to do defensively. The defensive side of the game is where we tweaked some things. We went to more of an area zone coverage, which I felt was important that we change as a group. Now all the habits within the area of coverage are starting to improve. Guys know what their assignments are and they're reading off of each other real well and are just worrying about doing their job."

You had gone to the area zone coverage right when you took over for Gerard Gallant. Did you expect it to be just a matter of time before the players starting to get it and have it become second nature to them?

"Yeah. It takes time for the guys to get comfortable with certain reads down low, who the first forward is coming back regardless if it's a center or a winger. Whoever that first forward is you are now the low man and you got to stay low until we get possession of the puck. That took a little bit of time to have the guys get used to. The other thing too is when you're losing or you're not into full mode as far as winning games on a consistent basis the confidence level slips. That was the other big piece. We tried to keep it as positive as we possibly could as a coaching staff until the guys regained their confidence. Then we got on a little bit of a roll and things started to come together, but I think it was in combination with playing better defense. We're telling the guys we have to be defense first because we have enough offensive ability with a lot of skill that when we do get possession of the puck, we are going to be able to create. I want the guys to be able to create and have fun on the offensive side of things, but you have to protect the puck and protect your end of the ice first. That's the message we've been getting to them ever since the [coaching] change happened."

In these past five games, of which you have won four, you still allowed five goals against the Ottawa Senators, the six against L.A. and four against the Nashville Predators. Is there any cause for concern with that?

"The L.A. game, we were just bad. Everybody. We just had a bad game. It was just one of those nights where you forget about it and move on. The Ottawa game, they were a high-charging team, threw a lot of different looks at us off the rush and we just didn't read it that well. That was the problem in that particular game. Then in Nashville we gave up four, but two of them were redirects off our own guy so we were in position but we deflected them ourselves and it went into our own net. A lot of that was self-inflicted. But I think now that we got [Aleksander] Barkov back, [Jonathan] Huberdeau back, [Alex] Petrovic and [Nick] Bjugstad, now our whole lineup is finally together and it slots everybody into positions where they belong and they're getting the minutes that they can handle. I think it's a trickle-down effect."

It's interesting that you mention that because at the start here I kind of glossed over the health factor mainly because teams deal with injuries all the time and you guys were no different, but what you just said is probably the most important thing about this. It's not just health, it's that you have guys playing where they should be playing. Can you detail more the impact of that on your team?

"That's why we signed the guys we signed in the offseason and built the team the way we did, was to have a three-lined balanced attack but also to have a fourth line that could get up and down the ice with a couple of those guys as penalty killers. Then if we found another energy guy or power play guy we could put him in there. As luck would have it, Shawn Thornton has gone in there and done an unbelievable job for us on the fourth line with [Derek] MacKenzie and [Colton] Sceviour. It's given us four good lines and now I can use the fourth line anywhere from 10-14 minutes a night depending on situations and depending on the game.

It doesn't get any easier, obviously. You're out in San Jose now and you've got to play the Sharks, Ducks, Kings and Blues before you return home. But once this road trip is over, you're home for four in a row, eight of 10, and 14 of your last 23 games. What is the approach as you go into these four games knowing what is coming on the schedule and what you potentially could do in March because of that?

"Yeah, it's a real cupcake schedule. Ha. No, the approach is we're going to worry about San Jose and we're not thinking one day beyond that. That's the approach. I told the guys the other piece to this puzzle is if you get 10 minutes a night, 18 minutes a night or five minutes a night we need everybody bought in to playing their role, giving us quality minutes, and if you're a healthy scratch you can't be hanging your head, you have to be thinking about the team first. That's been the whole approach, team first and then whatever you're asked to give us, we expect everybody to help us win. Guys have been unbelievable with that. The fact that we're still in the race with all the major injuries we've had in the early portion of the season is a credit to everybody in the organization and the kids who came up from Springfield to help us compete and win games when a lot of people didn't think we were going to be able to hang in there. That's the silver lining there, that we've been able to stay in the race with so many of our key guys out of the lineup."

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