Lack of practice time hampers new Florida Panthers coach


The Panthers will play their third game in four days Tuesday – and with limited practices, new coach Peter Horachek is still learning his personnel.

Peter Horachek, new coach of the Florida Panthers, is shown during practice while he was Nashville Predators associate coach on Jan. 14, 2013.
Peter Horachek, new coach of the Florida Panthers, is shown during practice while he was Nashville Predators associate coach on Jan. 14, 2013.
Mark Humphrey / AP

Tuesday: Ducks at Panthers

When/where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise.

TV/radio: FSNF; WQAM 560.

The series: Tied 10-10-3.

Scouting report: These two franchises both came to life in 1993 with the Ducks having much more success over the past two decades. Anaheim, coached by Bruce Boudreau, is off to a great start, winning 15 of its first 19 and its past five. Stark, stark contrast to what’s going on in Florida.

The hallway underneath Madison Square Garden is warmer than usual following a basketball game as the arena turns up the heat a little to keep things comfortable for fans sitting atop a sheet of ice.

Peter Horachek noticed that warmth as he approached the gathered media to speak before the Panthers’ game against the Rangers on Sunday night, his brow soaked in sweat.

Of course, it may just take Horachek a few days to get used to that so-called spotlight he now finds himself in.

“I just want to get that first win so I can stop sweating,” he joked.

A longtime minor-league coach and assistant with the NHL’s Predators, this is Horachek’s first NHL head coaching gig.

He got it under circumstances he didn’t want and had nothing to do with when Kevin Dineen was fired in the midst of a seven-game losing streak on Friday morning.

“No one wants to see good people get fired,’’ Horachek said. “We all feel responsible.’’

The slide is now at nine as Horachek’s charges have dropped a pair of one-goal games at Ottawa and New York.

Tuesday, Horachek will coach in his first home game as the Panthers play host to the Anaheim Ducks.

By taking Monday off, the Panthers will have played more games (three) than had practices (one) under their new coach entering Wednesday.

The lack of practice time and preparation makes it tough on a coach and his new staff to implement what they want to do.

“I have to get to know these players a lot better than I do,’’ Horachek said. “[Saturday] in the first period I’m trying to see which guys reacted to the adversity better than others. We were down 2-0, you need guys to step up, answer the bell when things get rough.’’

Horachek’s staff has great playing experience but little behind the bench.

Brian Skrudland, Florida’s first team captain in 1993, spent 2 1/2 seasons as an assistant coach in Calgary before joining the Panthers as director of player development.

“Coaching was always in the back of my mind and I’ve always had the utmost respect for people in this position,’’ Skrudland said. “This is a perfect fit for me, although things could be a lot better.’’

John Madden retired after helping the Panthers reach the playoffs in 2012.

Madden was an amateur scout for Montreal last year and joined the Panthers as a pro scout over the summer. He said he always thought he would make the jump to coaching — he just didn’t think it would be this quick.

“I was trying to find my way through it,’’ Madden said. “I thought scouting would help me learn a little more about the business after playing for a while. That was good. I’m excited about the opportunity.’’

• Some were surprised to see Tim Thomas back in net Sunday after facing 32 shots in a 3-2 loss in Ottawa the day before. After spending time on the injured list for the second time this season, it was thought the Panthers would take things slow with Thomas.

“I needed to play in a back-to-back to let my mind know I could do it,’’ Thomas said. “I’ll be honest, there were a couple of times where I thought I didn’t want to get hurt. I can’t play like that. Now I know I can do this.’’

• Brian Campbell will be the first to say he’s disappointed in not only Florida’s start but his as well. He scored his first goal of the season in the second period Sunday to give Florida its first lead; his second gave Florida life at 4-3 in the third.

“It’s obviously nice to get on the board,’’ Campbell said. “The first 10 games I was a little stagnant. Now I feel good in trying to help out.’’

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