When Philadelphia Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette joined the team in 2009, it was a welcome change for the often inconsistent franchise. Previous coach John Stevens left the team in a bit of disarray for Laviolette – who had led the Carolina Hurricanes to their first Stanley Cup four years earlier – though there was plenty to work with.
With a hard-nosed attitude and some crucial timeouts, Laviolette turned the Flyers into a Stanley Cup contender and was hailed by many as the best coach in Philadelphia. The team was gutted shortly after the Flyers’ loss in the Finals in 2010 and it became Laviolette’s team to mold. But with the Flyers’ struggles this season, has the coach’s jam already worn off?
Just over half of the lockout-shortened 48-game season is in the books and the Flyers look as inconsistent now as when Laviolette started, sitting last in the Atlantic division and eleventh in the Eastern Conference. The 48-year-old is not entirely to blame for the Flyers’ struggles as of late, however.
Philadelphia has just seven players on the roster – including the recent reacquisition of Simon Gagne – that played on that 2010 team which came up just short in the end. General Manager Paul Holmgren added plenty of young talent but surprisingly the Flyers remain the second oldest team in the NHL – though their core is stocked-piled with young, inexperienced talent.
Players like Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Matt Read have earned big-time minutes this season despite it being just their second year in the league. Philadelphia’s inexperience often shows and leads to mistakes in both zones. Turnovers have been an ongoing issue and the Flyers currently are among the league leaders in turnovers. It leads to more time in the defensive zone – something that should be minimalized with the team’s lack of blueline talent.
When the Flyers went out and got Luke Schenn last summer, it was a nice consolation price after losing Shea Weber to a contract with the Nashville Predators. Schenn has been impressive in his first year with the orange and black but he isn’t enough. For years, the Flyers relied on Kimmo Timonen to carry the puck and be a catalyst on the power play – and even recently signed him to a one-year contract extension. But his play has not lived up to what it’ been in the past, making uncharacteristic mistakes with the puck though the Flyers continue to give him an abundance of ice time due to lack of better options. The Flyers’ other defensemen have no problem throwing the body but cannot carry the puck – perhaps with the exception of Andrej Meszaros, who hasn’t been healthy for most of the season.
And we don’t even need to remind you of Ilya Bryzgalov and the ongoing goaltender soap opera.
Leadership is the last thing the Flyers are lacking. Philadelphia named Claude Giroux the franchise’s nineteenth captain in history – though he certainly hasn’t played like it. Giroux has been mediocre on the ice but hasn’t quite taken the reigns as a player who can charge up the troops and help get the team to adjust its style on the fly. The Flyers lack the big time locker room presence, the type that past players like Chris Pronger or Keith Primeau used to bring.
Laviolette isn’t completely off the hook, even with all of the Flyers’ issues. There have been numerous games this season where Philadelphia didn’t look prepared at the start of a contest, coming out flat and tired. Preparation is key during a shortened season and even though there are plenty of back-to-back games, there still must be an obvious level of preparation.
Worrying about preparation has never been the case against the Pittsburgh Penguins and remains true but the last two times the Flyers have squared-off against their cross-state rival, the following game has been a stinker.
Line changes are probably the biggest fault for Laviolette and the Flyers up to this point. There have been a number of goals within the last week or so that were a direct result of a poor line change – whether it’s because of timing, or a specific player failing to realize when to get off the ice. It’s also led to plenty of too many men on the ice penalties, seemingly more than in previous years.
This Flyers team is in the middle of a transitional period – a work in progress, if you will. To fire him at this point and move in a different direction wouldn’t be a wise move. It will take time for Laviolette to mold the team is has helped build. The core is there, now all that’s left is signing a big name defenseman and developing the current crop of youngsters. His coaching philosophy and tactics wouldn’t be in question, at least not yet.