It’s been just over a month since Peter Horachek began as Interim Head Coach for the Florida Panthers. Since then, the team holds a 7-8-1 mark under him, and is 3-1 in the last four games played. Since day one, Horachek has brought a new energy to the team, advocated mental toughness, and a work ethic that continues to rub off on the players.
Horachek has seen the progress over the last couple of weeks.
“They’re doing what they need to do or playing better in the direction I want them to go,” said Horachek.
He has a clear image on the direction of the team, and he wants it to be consistent progress to get to the level of the best teams in the league.
“What we have to do if we want to become one of those teams, we have to get better on the defensive side of it,” said Horachek. “If we want to become one of those teams we have to make sure special teams continues to get better, because one night our power play looks good and we’re getting chances, and one night it looks like we can’t set up and we’re not poised and we’re not protecting pucks and doing what we have to do with it. It’s a continuing process.”
There’s obviously things that can be cleaned up as the Panthers hope to improve on a day-by-day and game-by-game basis.
“I think we still make a lot of mistakes on the defensive side, and that’s a lesson learned, we have to keep getting better and better,” said Horachek. “Offensively were creating a lot of opportunities and they aren’t always going in, but we’re creating chances.”
Tuesday’s shootout victory against Detroit brought a spotlight on the importance of overtime and shootout points. Earning a point in an overtime or shootout loss can make a huge difference in the long-run, especially when it’s time for playoffs.
“The way I look at the thing is, is when you get to 60 minutes of hockey, the game is a tie so you really should get a point,” said Horachek. “I mean that’s the way it is, what you’re really getting in a shootout is the marketing point. The shootout is for the fans it’s not for coaches. Sometimes you’re successful at it, and you get in those situations sometimes you don’t.”
So where is the recent shootout success sparking from?
It’s coming from the likes of confident goaltender Tim Thomas, sharp shooter Brad Boyes, and crafty young stars Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.
“Well, you look at the personnel, you look at Timmy, obviously he is as we all know is a pretty good goaltender and he’s good on the shootouts,” said Horachek. “He’s done a pretty good job. When you have the goaltending you can win with just that and get one, but then our shooters I think are pretty good, especially the guys who have been going as of late, you know Huberdeau, Barkov and Boyes have all done a pretty good job.
“When you’ve got guys who can finish in those situations and a goaltender in the back, you hope you can go into those situations feeling confident.”
Confidence and mental toughness seems to be one of the biggest points that Horachek preaches to the team. And you can see it in the young players that have stepped up their game in the past few weeks. After Barkov danced around Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard in the shootout, it was pretty obvious how much skill the young, 18-year old has.
“Well when he can do that, you say ‘go for it,’” said Horachek. “He’s got a few things he can do in those situations, and it’s almost like a novelty the way he comes in and pulls it back or same thing with Huby, a spin-around move. It’s entertaining but they’re pretty good at it so you know, you say ‘go for it.’”
Barkov and Huberdeau aren’t the only young players making huge impacts on the team. Nick Bjugstad also came up with a spectacular goal against the Red Wings on Tuesday that tied the game and sent it into overtime.
“He’s doing a pretty good job, coming up with a huge goal like he did last night against Datsyuk, I mean that’s not done very often,” said Horachek. “Because he’s so big and strong I think that that makes a difference. He’s done a really good job; he’s playing in a big role. We’re obviously keen on keeping him energized and focused on playing his best hockey.”
After many years of coaching, Horachek knows what it takes to get the players confident and strong in their play. He has has led the movement towards a completely re-energized Panthers team, taking steps forward.
“It’s a continuing process that I want to see us get consistently better,” said Horachek.