The Carolina Hurricanes will begin life with new head coach Kirk Muller tonight, as the struggling club hosts the Florida Panthers at RBC Center.

The Hurricanes relieved Paul Maurice of his duties on Monday after he led Carolina to a dismal 8-13-4 record this season. Muller takes over a team that is last in the Southeast Division, but one that is also just eight points behind first-place Florida.

It will be the first NHL head coaching assignment for Muller, a 19-year NHL veteran who had been serving as head coach for the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League. Muller was in his first season with Milwaukee, which was 10-6-0 entering Monday. He had served as an assistant coach with Montreal for five seasons and was also head coach on the Canadian collegiate level.

"Kirk is a proven leader and motivator, and he has strong communication skills," said Hurricanes president and general manager Jim Rutherford in a statement. "He was a captain and a Stanley Cup winner as a player, and did excellent work as a coach with the Canadiens and the Admirals. We feel confident that he is the right man to lead our team now and in the future."

A six-time All Star during his playing career, Muller recorded 357 goals and 959 points during his time in the NHL. Muller, who played with six NHL teams during his career, including Florida, won a Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1993.

"There's nothing like being a player, but the next [best] thing I found was the coaching," Muller said when introduced to the media on Monday. "Getting in there and getting in the grind with the guys and the game and feeding off the atmosphere -- that's what it's all about."

Maurice was in his second stint with the franchise and served 920 games behind the bench for the organization. The all-time winningest head coach in franchise history had a record of 384-391-145 during his tenure. Maurice also led the team to the Eastern Conference title in 2002.

The Hurricanes were dealt a 4-3 regulation loss by Ottawa in Maurice's last game on Sunday. Jason Spezza scored two goals in the first period to help lift the Senators to their first home win in November.

Eric Staal and Alexei Ponikarovsky had third-period goals for the Hurricanes, who tried to claw their way back after falling down 3-1 after two. Cam Ward allowed four goals on 25 shots in the loss, Carolina's 10th in 14 games this month (4-9-1).

The Hurricanes were just 1-for-8 on the power play and are ranked second-to- last in the NHL with the man advantage this season.

Carolina will begin the Muller era at the start of a three-game homestand, but the 'Canes are just 5-6-2 in Raleigh this season.

The Panthers will try to avoid a third straight loss tonight after getting swept by Tampa Bay in a home-and-home series. The Lightning notched a 2-1 overtime win Friday in Sunrise and then won by a 5-1 score the following day in Tampa. Steven Stamkos, who scored the OT game-winner on Friday, had two goals and an assist to lead the way for the Bolts in Saturday's rout.

Shawn Matthias had a late goal on Saturday for the Panthers, who had won three straight before encountering the Lightning this weekend. Jacob Markstrom stopped 29 shots in the loss.

"We didn't have any juice out there tonight," said Matthias. "They beat us to the puck and had the better legs. We didn't generate anything out there."

The Panthers, who began a four-game road trip on Saturday, are 7-5-0 on the road this season.

Tonight marks the first of six meetings between the 'Canes and Panthers this season. Carolina won four of six encounters in 2010-11 and has also taken five of the last six matchups in Raleigh.