High expectations and an inconsistent first quarter of the season led to a coaching change for the Florida Panthers.
Tom Rowe, the Panthers' first-year general manager, was named coach for the remainder of the season on Monday after Gerard Gallant was fired following a 3-2 loss at the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday. Assistant coach Mike Kelly also was fired.
Rowe said he will focus on coaching and allow the responsibilities of the general manager to fall to president of hockey operations Dale Tallon and assistant GMs Eric Joyce and Steve Werier.
Gallant was Panthers coach since the start of the 2014-15 season and went 96-65-25, including 47-26-9 last season, when he was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award after guiding the Panthers to the Atlantic Division title with 103 points.
Florida is 11-10-1 after 22 games this season.
"The priority today, and it's going to be every day, is to get us into the playoffs," Rowe said 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."
Rowe took over as Panthers GM in May. His background is in coaching.
Rowe coached Florida's American Hockey League affiliate for two-and-a-half seasons before becoming Panthers associate general manager in January. He spent the 2012-13 season coaching Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League after being an assistant coach for the Hurricanes from 2008-11.
Panthers president and CEO Matthew Caldwell said Rowe was the only choice to replace Gallant.
"There was no other consideration," Caldwell said.
Caldwell said the Panthers' front office staff, including Tallon, Joyce and Werier, met after 20 games and decided they didn't like the direction the team was going this season.
Rowe said the initial thought was to keep Gallant on through the end of Florida's current six-game road trip, which continues at the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday (8:30 p.m. ET; CSN-CH, FS-F, NHL.TV), but the loss at Carolina on Sunday sped up the decision by owner Vincent Viola to fire Gallant.
The Panthers lost after allowing three goals and getting outshot 13-7 in the second period against the Hurricanes.
Viola and Rowe informed Gallant and Kelly of the decision.
"After we collapsed in the second period [Sunday] night, it came to a head a lot quicker," Rowe said.
Rowe said he met with the players Sunday night. He met with assistant coaches Scott Allen, Dave Barr and Robb Tallas Monday morning and was planning to meet with Florida's leadership group, including captain Derek MacKenzie and alternate captains Aaron Ekblad and Jussi Jokinen, on Monday afternoon.
The Panthers had a day off in Chicago on Monday. Rowe said he will hold a full team meeting Tuesday before the game against the Blackhawks.
"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."
Rowe admitted there was a philosophical divide between management and Gallant for how the Panthers are built to play and how the executive staff believes they should play. He said that did play a role in the decision to fire Gallant.
The Panthers' moves last summer illustrate the divide. They signed mobile defensemen like Keith Yandle and Jason Demers and traded Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson, who are more physical defensemen in the mold of what Gallant wants on his roster.
"We wanted to develop a team and build a team that was fast, could move the puck quickly, attack the offensive net, pressure the puck in all three zones," Rowe said. "Gerard and I talked about it and he said he wanted to get a little more size, and we decided to go in a different direction.
"Were we on the same page every day of the week? No, when it came to that. The best way to tell you is the philosophy was different and that did weigh into the decision."
The Panthers also were inconsistent through the first quarter last season, when they were 9-9-4 through 22 games. They rallied to go 38-17-5 in their final 60 games, but that raised expectations for this season.
Those expectations did not go down just because the Panthers had injuries to top-nine forwards Jonathan Huberdeau (Achilles), Nick Bjugstad (hand) and Jokinen (knee).
Huberdeau hasn't played this season, Bjugstad missed the first 19 games, and Jokinen sat 10 games with his injury, including nine straight from Oct. 22-Nov. 7. Defenseman Alex Petrovic also has missed seven straight games with a lower-body injury.
"When you get 103 points, you expect the team to continue on that pace," Tallon said. "That's probably what forced the change."
Rowe said he believes the Panthers need to be better in the defensive zone and must improve their special teams. Florida is 21st on the power play (14.7 percent) and 19th on the penalty kill (81.3 percent). Last season, the Panthers were 23rd on the power play (16.9 percent) and 24th on the penalty kill (79.5 percent).
The Panthers lost to the New York Islanders in six games in the Eastern Conference First Round last season in part because of special teams. Their power play was 2-for-15 (13.3 percent), and their penalty kill was 16-for-21 (76.2 percent).
"We felt we played really well against the Islanders, but the power play wasn't able to execute at the level that we needed it to," Rowe said. "So that area and defensive-zone coverage is something we're going to go over in detail and get that cleaned up. Play at a much higher pace.
"This team is built for speed and skill. 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 attack the puck and the way they made every step of the opponent difficult by pressuring is how we want to play. It's a fun way to play. The players like playing that way. That's what the fans want to watch."