We're only through one episode of 24/7, and with the second coming this weekend, it's becoming pretty clear who the star of the series is so far. No, not Mike Babcock. No, not Joffrey Lupul. No, not the toaster Randy Carlyle did battle with. The star of HBO 24/7 has clearly been the Florida Panthers.
Since firing head coach Kevin Dineen and replacing him with Peter Horaceck, the Panthers have gone 10-8-1, but of late they've won six of their last seven games, putting themselves six points out of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. This current run also includes three wins over the Red Wings and the Maple Leafs as the 24/7 cameras roll.
When the Panthers fired Dineen on Nov. 8, they were 3-9-4 and general manager Dale Tallon declared that changes were to be made. Kris Versteeg was shipped back to Chicago and defensemen Mike Mottau and Ryan Whitney were demoted to the AHL; but those were the only moves that Tallon accomplished. No big shake-up trade was consummated.
Through a little over a month, that's been fine, because life has improved in South Florida. Not in the "start stocking up the playoff rats" sense, but since Horacek took over, the Panthers have improved offensively (1.94 GF/G to 2.20 GF/G) and defensively (3.38 GA/G to 3.03 GA/G). Small changes; but changes in the right direction, at least (and in a conference where points are as up for grabs as Santa's beard.)
If you asked Panthers players, like defenseman Mike Weaver, they'll say Horacek has brought "structure." That element has instilled some belief in the room says the interim head coach.
"Our guys are starting to believe if they play the way we need to, we'll have success. I have not brought up standings, haven't brought up where we are or aren't. I brought up where we are today and how we want to play today. Our guys are doing a good job.''
Hey, it may not result in a second trip to the postseason in 13 years, but at least the talk, for now, can be on the on-ice product and not oddly-designed bobbleheads.
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