A Work In Progress
We have a pretty good sample size of the new coaching staff and the result is a positive one. Peter Horachek, Brian Skrudland and John Madden have taken a team that was ridden with bad habits and mental lapses and have cleaned up a lot of it. It's still a work in progress and can still be frustrating for fans but the hockey IQ has gone up and I expect the team to continue to play smarter, more disciplined hockey moving forward.
Horachek is a straight forward coach that knows how he wants his team to play and tells them in a direct manner that can't be confused by players.
Madden knows the game as well as anyone I've ever been around. He was always somewhat of a player/coach with New Jersey where he won two Stanley Cups. He also won another in Chicago and helped the Panthers win the Southeast Divison two seasons ago. Madden's in-depth knowledge of the center position has been extremely beneficial in the development of young centers Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad.
Skrudland is another straight shooter. You always know where you stand with the original panthers captain. In addition, he has pride in that Panthers logo, wants this franchise to succeed and was the leader when it was flourishing in South Florida in the 1990's. Skrudland knows hockey works here if the team performs well.
The previous Panthers coaches worked as hard as they could and wanted to succeed badly. Work ethic was never an issue. But it was obviously time for change, the change also falls on the players' shoulders. There are still challenges like the lack of energy to start games. Thats' inexcusable and on player's backs to get right. But Horachek has coached in the ECHL, IHL, AHL and NHL. He is an experienced, smart, disciplined man and knows exactly what he wants from his team.
Keeping lines and defense pairings together has also been helpful in a big way. Chemistry develops between players that are comfortable together and know one another's tendencies. I've enjoyed watching the improved play and there is still room to grow in the mental approach to games. One thing I know for a fact, that mental toughness, reading the situations on the ice and playing smart hockey is being preached every day by a coach and his assistants who know what it takes to win in the NHL.