Another rough start to a Florida Panthers road trip
Dylan McIlrath didn’t look too pretty on Tuesday night.
Neither did the Florida Panthers.
McIlrath, Florida’s lightly used defenseman, spoke to reporters following Tuesday’s ugly 5-1 loss to the host Minnesota Wild with a wad of gauze stuffed up his nose after he was bloodied in a third-period fight with Chris Stewart.
If a Gordie Howe hat trick is a goal, assist and fight, McIlrath pulled off something special Tuesday as he got into a pair of fights — he split the back of Kurtis Gabriel’s jersey in half — and also scored Florida’s only goal.
McIlrath, playing in his second consecutive game and just his third since coming to the Panthers in a November trade with the Rangers, might have bought himself some more playing time with his showing on Tuesday.
No one else on the Panthers can probably say that — and interim coach Tom Rowe tried to make that point during his postgame media session.
“Guys have got to understand, if you’re going to play in the National Hockey League, you got to show up every day,” said Rowe, who blistered his team with a stream of obscenities from the bench during the game.
“You can’t show up when you feel like it.”
Rowe wasn’t the only member of the team who showed frustration with Tuesday’s showing — Florida’s second ugly one in a week.
National hockey insider Darren Dreger of Canada’s TSN reported Wednesday that the Panthers are giving Dale Tallon an increased say in on-ice decisions.
According to Dreger, Tallon — Florida’s general manager from 2010 until seeing his role diminished over the summer — now appears to be the main point of contact in Florida’s three person management team.
The Panthers, who made Tallon president of hockey operations upon promoting Rowe to GM following their postseason loss to the Islanders, have remained quiet on the subject although owner Vinnie Viola told Elliott Friedman of Canada’s Sportsnet nothing has changed after meeting with Tallon on Wednesday.
Florida CEO Matthew Caldwell also said late Wednesday night the Panthers had not made any changes within its hockey operations department and decisions will still be made within the power structure of Tallon and assistant GMs Eric Joyce and Steve Werier.
Tallon is not with the team in Winnipeg, Caldwell said.
“As far as I am concerned, Dale has always had final say over hockey decisions,” Viola told Friedman.
“What we had done is bifurcate Dale from some things he didn’t need to worry about anymore ... But, in terms of player decisions, it is his call.”
Although Rowe still holds the title of GM while serving as interim head coach, he said day-to-day decisions would be made by Joyce and Werier with Tallon, highly respected throughout NHL circles, having some say.
With Florida winning just two of eight games since, another adjustment may have been made to try and get the Panthers back on track.
The Panthers, who lost to the visiting Penguins 5-1 after surrendering three quick goals last Thursday, are in the midst of a three-game trip.
Florida hasn’t had much practice time under Rowe since Gerard Gallant was unceremoniously fired on Nov. 27 and, for the most part, has struggled since the change.
The Panthers earned a point in Rowe’s first game behind the bench in Chicago by tying the Blackhawks on a Jaromir Jagr goal early in the third before losing in a shootout.
Florida got Rowe his first NHL head coaching win a few nights later in Detroit but has won just once since.
The Panthers go into Thursday’s game 2-3-3 under Rowe.
“We’re fine; we’re a tight-knit group,” McIlrath said. “Ever since coming in here, you can tell this team wants to win. This isn’t going to set us back at all.”
Florida’s power play has become a point of contention. The Panthers came into Wednesday’s games ranked last in the league with the man-advantage, scoring just 13 power-play goals in 30 games with a success rate of 12.6 percent.
The league average is 18.4 percent, with Columbus leading all teams by scoring nearly 26 percent of the time.
Since the coaching change, Florida has just two power-play goals in 28 chances (seven percent).
Florida was 0 for 5 on the power play on Tuesday night.
Florida’s penalty kill, on the other hand, has been pretty good and is ranked fifth in the league with a success rate of 85 percent.
“It’s struggling, no doubt about that,” Rowe said about the power play. “It’s at the bottom of the league, and we have to fix it.
“We have the personnel here to do it, but if we’re not going to get it done with the guys we have then we have to find some other people who are going to come out and execute and play a more simple power play. We’re getting too fancy and not shooting the puck enough.”
Thursday: Panthers at Jets
When/where: 8 p.m.; MTS Centre, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640.
Series: Winnipeg/Atlanta leads 45-35-5.
Scouting report: The Panthers snapped a four-game losing streak in Winnipeg last season with a 3-2 victory on March 1, completing a two-game sweep of the season series. … Winnipeg, which was beaten 6-2 at Calgary on Saturday night, has lost its past four games and is 2-4-1 this month.