Laviolette reflects on first third of Flyers' season

Laviolette reflects on first third of Flyers' season

February 19, 2013, 3:15 pm
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PITTSBURGH - Officially, the Flyers hit the one-third marker of this lockout-shortened season after Saturday’s 4-1 loss in Montreal.
 
One game past that point, it’s really impossible to say with any degree of certainty where Peter Laviolette’s club is right now.
 
It's been both Jekyll & Hyde, beginning the season in 11th place in the Eastern Conference and remaining mired in the pack at 10th right now.
 
Without question, injuries -- Andrej Meszaros' shoulder, Danny Briere's wrist, Scott Hartnell's foot and a Wayne Simmonds concussion -- have wreaked havoc.

The word on Hartnell is that he is "improving."

"He sees his doctor tomorrow and we should know more after his checkup," general manager Paul Holmgren said.
 
Coupled with new players up front and especially on the back end, where the Flyers remain less formidable than last season, Laviolette has had to mix and match and scramble with his lineup, almost on a nightly basis.
 
That said, there have been, as players admitted last weekend, too many nights when the Flyers' best effort was left somewhere else other than on the ice.
 
“It’s been a rollercoaster,” Laviolette said Tuesday afternoon, relaxing in Pittsburgh. “Some things, some games have been good and there’s been some of the other which were inconsistent and not good.
 
“We’re trying to find that identity that can lead to a more stable ride. The [offensive] attack needs to be better and we try to work on it when we can. We need to spend more time in the other team’s zone.”
 
The Flyers did just that Monday against the Islanders and came away with seven goals.
 
“We have to find more consistency,” Laviolette said on moving forward from there.
 
That the Flyers' veterans, particularly team captain Claude Giroux, backed up their harsh words from the loss in Montreal with genuine actions was a welcome sign.
 
A number of players delivered their best performances of the season.
 
“I think Claude would have done that without even being the captain,” Laviolette said. “When there is something to be said from the players in the room, G has proven to me he goes out and does it and shows up. ... It’s not the first time Claude has done that.”
 
In sizing up where this team is, Hartnell’s loss is reflected in the lack of space Giroux now has on the ice. The captain has suffered, with nine games where he didn’t even register an assist. He has five goals and 13 points.
 
The Flyers' perspective on the standings has been to look up at everyone else. They enjoyed third place in the Atlantic Division all of 24 hours on Feb. 10.
 
Now they are about to conclude their sixth back-to-back affair.
 
Their special teams were horrific at the start and dragged them through slushy ice until showing signs of improvement in early February.
 
Today, their power play (19.1 percent) and penalty kill (83.1%) are at season highs: 11th and 13th.
 
That’s no small achievement when you consider where the Flyers were -- single-digits on the power play -- back in January.
 
Their only performer with any kind of consistent track record has been starting goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
 
“Bryz has had a good start to the season and seems very focused and in control out there,” Laviolette said.
 
“There’s been games when we needed him to make a fair amount of good saves and then games like [the Islanders] where there’s not much work.
 
“But he’s been sharp in those situations.”
 
While Bryz’s current numbers -- 2.42 goals against average, .911 save percentage -- aren’t as shiny as they were nearly two weeks ago, that’s more a by-product of sloppy play in front of him. It’s not reflective of what he’s done in the crease.
 
Goaltending has actually bought the defense and penalty kill some time to get better, although the blue line’s top-six is still slower than a year ago, albeit bigger. The defense’s lack of speed, especially in transition, remains a concern.
 
Yet the penalty kill has finally made a difference.
 
“Our penalty kill has gotten a lot better and they say your goaltender is your best penalty killer,” Laviolette said. “That’s a fair statement.
 
“There’s always going to be chances 5 on 4, even if you execute your [PK] system correctly. The guy who can make the difference is the guy in the net.
 
“You take the first nine games versus the last nine games and there is marked improvement on the penalty kill.”
 
The Flyers have killed off 21 straight power plays over the past six games.
 
When the NHL released the revised schedule, the Flyers were smiling because they had so many road dates right away.
 
What better way to build chemistry with a club that was working several new players into key roles than have them do it on the road, where the Flyers have terrorized people over the past two seasons.
 
The smiles are gone now. As Kimmo Timonen aptly put this weekend in Montreal, “Nobody fears us” on the road. Not with a 3-8 record.
 
The Flyers' current six-game road trip comes to an end Wednesday against the top team in the East, the Penguins, who are No. 2 overall in the league on the road with an 8-2 record.
 
Chicago is 8-0-2.
 
“Offensively, we’ve got to put our foot on the gas pedal now,” Laviolette said.
 
Laviolette’s club needs a win Wednesday just to get to .500 on this road trip.
 
Here’s a thought. Score seven goals like they did against the Islanders, and the Flyers will pretty much guarantee a 3-3 trip.
 
With 15 points through 17 games, the Flyers remain two points behind the eighth-seeded New York Rangers.
 
Since there is no inter-conference play and teams are playing all games within their own conference, it’s a daunting task to make up ground.
 
The Flyers have been two points or less behind the ever-changing eighth seed for weeks now and haven’t caught up.
 
Lose a game and chances are you also lose position in the standings under this lockout schedule.
 
On Wednesday, we find out whether the Flyers stumbled upon an oasis on Long Island or whether they are finally out of the desert.
 
“We win tomorrow, we come back a game under .500 [for the season],” Laviolette said. “We’re not too far off from adding big pieces back to our lineup, either.”

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