Peter Horachek: Finding Success in Florida as Interim Head Coach

If it's true that living well is the best revenge, Peter Horachek is off to a good start.

Horachek was a fixture behind the Nashville bench for a decade before being unceremoniously dumped by the Preds last May in favor of new assistant coach Phil Housley, but while Nashville continues to search for a winning formula, Horachek has landed on his feet in Florida and is not only doing a solid job, but he's starting to draw attention from around the league for his efforts. Puck Daddy is swooning over the Cats' sudden surge, as detailed by the Brandon Sun:

The Florida Panthers have gone streaking.

Winners of four straight and six of their past seven, they're showing significant progress more than a month after the firing of coach Kevin Dineen and hiring of Peter Horachek.

"I really think the new coaching staff, it's a new culture now," centre Shawn Matthias said. "We're playing for each other. We're playing as a team now, and we're having a lot of fun doing it."

That fun is happening in full view of many folks who have perhaps just a passing knowledge of the NHL. In beating the Detroit Red Wings twice and then the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, the Panthers improved to 3-0 with HBO's "24/7" cameras in the building.

Since being appointed interim head coach of the 3-9-4 Panthers in early November, Horachek has righted the ship in Sunrise and has Florida not only competing on a regular basis, but drawing attention as a possible late-comer to the Eastern Conference playoff race, which has its share of vulnerable teams in the mix.

In 19 games behind the Panthers' bench, Horachek has put up a 10-8-1 record (compared to Nashville's 8-10-1 of late), including six wins in their last seven games.

Not Just Fancy Dancin'

Whenever we see such a dramatic turnaround, it's fair to ask how much is a result of fundamental performance as compared to a streak of good or bad fortune. We know the peaks and valleys of "puck luck" (expressed as PDO, the sum of a team's save percentage and shooting percentage) can lead to periods in which a team's wins and losses are at odds with their true talent. For example, see the current plight of the Toronto Maple Leafs, which was foretold by many fancy stats devotees during their promising start.

The interesting aspect of Horachek's work so far is that his leadership has been tied to a substantial improvement in the Panthers' fundamentals:

CF % FF % GF % Shoot % Save % PDO
Dineen 48.1% 47.7% 25.0% 4.5% .881 925
Horachek 53.1% 53.2% 45.9% 6.4% .912 976

The data above (from Extra Skater) shows 5-on-5 data for the Florida Panthers during "close game" situations under their two different head coaches this season (16 games for Kevin Dineen, 19 for Horachek). In a nutshell, both Corsi and Fenwick numbers, reflecting the balance of shots for & against, have turned favorable for Florida under Horachek, as anything above 50% means your team is out-shooting opponents. Team Save % has risen from "god-awful" to "nearly respectable", which has allowed the Panthers to come close to break-even in the goal-scoring battle.

Horachek has restored the Panthers as a competitive team, and if the trend continues, he may just lead the Panthers to the playoffs. Will all this be enough to earn him the permanent title of Head Coach in Florida? Time will only tell, but so far, he's doing everything he can to land the job.

The flip side to that question is, did Nashville let a potential successor to Barry Trotz slip away, or would he have represented "more of the same" anyway?