The Florida Panthers chose to change direction with the surprise firing of successful coach Gerard Gallant Sunday night and general manager Tom Rowe takes over on an interim basis when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday. Gallant led Florida to its second division title in franchise history last season, but Rowe told reporters a “philosophical divide” led to the move after the injury-plagued Panthers came out of the gate 11-10-1.
“What management and owners do are out of control,” Florida center Vincent Trocheck told the Sun Sentinel. “We can control how we play every night and as a group we let down a great coach and a friend.” Rowe told reporters Gallant wanted a little more size in the lineup and management preferred to build around speed with an attacking style that will get a major test against the Blackhawks, who lead the Western Conference with 31 points. Chicago comes home after going 3-3-1 on their seven-game circus trip and could be without captain Jonathan Toews (upper-body) for a third consecutive game. Patrick Kane has two goals and an assist in the last two games for the Blackhawks, who play six of the next seven at home.
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, FSN Florida, CSN Chicago
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (11-10-1): Florida is 5-3-0 in its last eight, but suffered losses in two of the last three after coughing up a two-goal lead in a 3-2 setback at Carolina on Sunday. The Panthers are still looking for more offense from Aleksander Barkov (two goals) and Jaromir Jagr (three) while defenseman Aaron Ekblad has six tallies on a team-high 66 shots, but zero assists. Budget free-agent signing Jonathan Marchessault leads the team with 10 goals and 17 points while center Nick Bjugstad has three shots on goal in three games since returning from a broken hand.
ABOUT THE BLACKHAWKS (14-6-3): Kane leads the way with 23 points while Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov have also posted at least 20, and veteran Marian Hossa boasts a team-high 11 goals – two shy of his total in 2015-16. Chicago need more from right wing Richard Panik, who started the season red hot with six goals in six games to place himself among the league leaders but has been shut out in the last 17 contests. Chicago’s biggest problem in the first quarter of the season has been the penalty kill, which is last in the league at 70.8 percent despite going 17-of-21 on the trip.
1. Chicago D Trevor van Riemsdyk, out since Oct. 21 with an arm injury, is not expected back Tuesday but is close to returning.
2. Florida G Roberto Luongo has faced 1,000 shots in his career against Chicago and saved 930 of them while registering a 16-13-3 record.
3. The Blackhawks won eight straight against the Panthers before dropping a 4-0 decision last January.
PREDICTION: Blackhawks 5, Panthers 1