Tampa Bay (8-1-1) at Florida (5-8-0)

Mostly Cloudy Currently: Sunrise, FL
Temp: 82° F
  • Game info: 7:30 pm EST Tue Nov 11, 2003
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Florida Panthers general manager Rick Dudley is not pleased with the way his team has started the season. He’ll now try to turn it around himself.

Dudley fired coach Mike Keenan on Sunday, and while he searches for a permanent replacement, he will assume the coaching duties on an interim basis. He makes his debut behind the bench when the Panthers host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“It was done simply because we felt the potential of this team was such that we wanted to play at a maximum or optimal level,” Dudley said. “We did not feel we were doing that at this time.”

Team owner Alan Cohen informed Keenan of the decision after a 2-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday. The Panthers are 1-3 in their last four games, but Dudley said they had been contemplating the change for a while.

“Sometimes when things aren’t working as you want them to, someone pays a price,” Dudley said. “And unfortunately, it’s (Keenan).”

This will be Dudley’s first game as an NHL head coach since 1992, when he was with the Buffalo Sabres.

But he will need to spend little time preparing for the Lightning. Dudley was Tampa Bay’s general manager from 1999-2001 and is very familiar with the Lightning players.

“I don’t pick my spots. … I know their players just about as well as I know our players,” Dudley said. “They’ve got a fabulous hockey team and right now they’re firing on all cylinders.”

The Lightning have earned a point in all but one game this season. After burying the Pittsburgh Penguins 9-0 on Saturday, they skated to a 1-1 tie with the Carolina Hurricanes the next day.

Tampa Bay was outshot 38-22, but backup goalie John Grahame was impressive filling in for Nikolai Khabibulin, who got the day off. The Lightning have allowed an NHL-low 20 goals in 12 games.

However, coach John Tortorella was not pleased with the drop-off on offense Sunday.

“We didn’t play as hard as we usually do,” he said. “It’s a lesson learned for us.”

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