Questions Facing the Flyers: The First Full Season Under Lavvy

Questions Facing the Flyers: The First Full Season Under Lavvy

Despite a surprisingly disappointing 2009-2010 regular season, the Flyers came together at exactly the right time and gave us a great run to the Stanley Cup Finals. As the 2010-2011 season approaches, we’ll take a look at some of the questions currently facing the team—questions which, should they be answered positively, could get them that one huge step further. Today, it’s what the impact of a full training camp, preseason, and regular season under head coach Peter Laviolette will mean.

John Stevens was a popular coach both with his players and within the organization, all the way to the top. He’d won a Calder Cup as a Phantoms player and as coach, the latter while guiding a few future stars in Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Stevens also helped to quickly turn around a Flyers team that in 2006-2007 endured its worst-ever season, winning just 22 games. The following year, benefiting from a busy summer in trades and free agency, Stevens led the Flyers back to the playoffs and into the Eastern Conference Finals. However, after bowing out to the Penguins in back-to-back postseasons and getting off to a sluggish, uninspired start in 2009-2010, Stevens was fired after 26 games because the club thought it needed a change.

Some of Stevens’ players acknowledged that their play was the reason he’d lost his job, and they had a point. But what became clear after he was fired, even as the club continued the whole season at about the W-L pace it had set under Stevens, was that this particular group of players needed a different set of lungs behind the whistle at practice and a different voice behind the bench in games. 

Even before Stevens was fired, Peter Laviolette’s name was being whispered as a possible successor in Philadelphia. He’d already won a Stanley Cup in Carolina, but was currently out of coaching after being fired by the Hurricanes upon missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons after their Cup-winning campaign. Twenty-five games into the 20008-2009 season, Laviolette was relieved of coaching duties with a 12-11-2 record; Stevens’ record when fired by the Flyers in 2009-2010? 13-11-1.

That about sums up how it works for coaches in the NHL. Keep winning, or a new voice will be sought.

Looking for that new voice, Paul Holmgren went with a man considered in some ways to be a polar opposite to Stevens and hired Laviolette out of the broadcast studio. Lavvy had no history with the franchise or these players. He owed them nothing individually. He was known as a fiery presence, a stark contrast to Stevens’ perceived (at least in public) stoicism and quieter ways. And he was also known as a strict coach with a high regard for conditioning and hard practices. With a team that was dramatically underperforming for both its skill level and salary commitment, all of this sounded to be exactly what the Flyers needed, although even after his firing, many fans continued to believe that the team’s shortcomings were not the fault of Stevens.

The team lacked chemistry, and stretches of dominance were followed by a few putrid games that would undo any progress and confidence. If a coaching change didn’t work, an off-season overhaul was increasingly likely.

Perceived as a coach who had little tolerance for lapses in discipline, and according to some who followed him in Carolina, no interest in fighting, it wasn’t immediately certain that Laviolette was going to be a perfect fit with this group of players. There were questions as to whether some guys (Dan Carcillo) would be watching from the press box or soon shipped off in a trade, as well as questions as to how the team would respond to seeing their friend-coach fired an outsider brought in.

Soon after Lavvy’s arrival came reports of strenuous practices and immediate implementation of a new, more physically demanding system. However, in his first appearance behind the Flyers’ bench, the team was dismantled by the Capitals, who benefited from a 9-minute powerplay at the hands of Carcillo. Meet the new boss…

Obviously, it was too early to judge Laviolette, but it was telling that Lavvy didn’t get rid of Carcillo or even rip him publicly. He knew it would take significantly longer than a few days to implement a new system and a new set of expectations, and he also knew how quickly a coach can lose his team. Lavvy won’t soon be mistaken for patient when it comes to losing games or making mental mistakes, but he had to endure both of them as the season went on, as well as a devastating slew of injuries. The Flyers were unable to keep a goalie healthy all season, and their record under Laviolette was actually a game under .500 if you count OTL’s as what they are—L’s.

Despite the disappointing run leading up to the final game of the regular season, Lavvy became very popular in Philadelphia. His penchant for calling timeouts, which are seldom used in hockey, at just the right moment showed his feel for the game and his ability to motivate players on a moment’s notice. Given the well-documented issues another coach in town has with using timeouts, this factor alone was enough to gain Lavvy immediate praise.

But heading into that final game of the season, some fans were actually hoping the Flyers wouldn’t make the playoffs. No one wanted them to back in, of course, but some thought there would be more of a spur to make more changes if the team were to miss the postseason (and its revenues) altogether, rather than be summarily dismissed in the opening round. Despite the knowledge that anything can happen once the second season starts, the team’s play as the season wound down wasn’t exactly inspiring.

But after a dramatic shootout win put the Flyers into an opening round series with the Devils, a new team came out of the tunnel. Perfectly happy to be the underdogs on paper, the Flyers knew they’d had the better of the Devils on the ice all season. We all know what happened from there.

The injuries that plagued the team in the regular season continued in the postseason. Centers, goalies, you name it. And yet with each trip to the press box or surgeon, another face would step up and fill the void immediately. Much of this speaks to the makeup of the guys in the jerseys, but given how uninspired these same guys previously were, it was apparent that they were playing for Lavvy as much as for themselves. It was one of the greatest postseasons in franchise history, even drawing praise for its place in history from hockey's most historic figure.

The question facing the team now is, was this a factor of the intensity and magic, if you will, of the NHL playoffs? Or was this a team finally clicking in a new system after several months of practicing and playing within it?

If it’s the latter, we could be in for a hell of an outstanding season.

It has been reported that the team was not in sufficient physical shape to play within Laviolette's system when the new coach arrived, requiring an intense in-season conditioning program. With a full off-season, camp, and preseason to command a different expectation of “game shape,” will the Flyers be that much better in 2010-2011 based on improved conditioning alone? If so, it would ideally be the solution to their tendency to wilt in games and in long stretches of the regular season. But it’s no given that the players will respond the same in October as they did in April, nor that the new faces will gel with the old. It all sounds great in theory, but after missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons after his last trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, Laviolette would probably be the first to tell you how hard it is to get back the next season.

Hopefully the veteran coach has learned from his previous experiences in this regard, and his veteran players will build on theirs.

What do you think? Will a full season under Lavvy be the biggest key to another successful run, maybe one that results in a Cup?

(Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Give and Go: How much credit does Brett Brown deserve for Sixers' improvement?

Give and Go: How much credit does Brett Brown deserve for Sixers' improvement?

With the team at the All-Star break, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are CSNPhilly.com producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

In this edition, we analyze the job head coach Brett Brown has done this season.

Haughton
Brown's performance has already resulted in more wins than any other season under his leadership, but it continues to be a complex judgment.

He's still tied to an extremely young roster, which lends itself to the high number of turnovers, mistakes coming out of timeouts and defensive breakdowns. 

However, he has managed to get several players to show growth in their games and make sure the Sixers remain balanced even with Joel Embiid's emergence. That can also be attributed to Brown's emphasis on state of play and not state of pay.

He turned to T.J. McConnell ($874,636 salary) at starting point guard over Sergio Rodriguez ($8 million) because the second-year pro has proven to be a better fit and has routinely moved Gerald Henderson ($9 million) from starter to reserve.

Then of course, there has been Brown's handling of the Sixers' mashup at center. The coach has found each guy minutes when he can and, according to the players, been up front about all potential minutes and trade scenarios.

Perhaps Brown's finest job this season has come in a role he thought was over: team delegate. Once Sam Hinkie exited and Bryan Colangelo proclaimed he would be more open with information, Brown certainly had to think his days of standing in front of the media to explain every single thing going on with the franchise were over. Think again. 

Still, Brown's been there each day, answering just about every question thrown his way from injuries to trade rumors. If nothing else, he deserves to be commended for dealing with that ... again.

Hudrick
It's amazing what a few NBA-caliber players can do.

After accumulating a 47-199 record over his first three seasons, Brown has led the Sixers to a 21-35 mark so far this season. Sure, much of the credit for the team's success has to do with adding legitimate NBA talent (and a legitimate NBA star in Embiid). With that said, you're finally starting to see Brown's fingerprints on the Sixers.

A protégé of Gregg Popovich's with the Spurs, Brown preaches defense and ball movement. The Sixers' defense has been a catalyst for their success this season. As Brown says in his Bostralian accent, the defensive end is where the Sixers' "bread is buttered." 

With unselfish players with decent court vision like Dario Saric and Gerald Henderson added to the mix, the Sixers don't look like a total disaster in the half court. They're ninth in the NBA at 23.5 assists per game. They haven't finished higher than 15th in the league in any of Brown's three seasons. 

When you consider what Brown has gone through and how he's managed to keep everything positive, it's incredible. Hinkie pegged Brown as his guy, knowing that Brown was an excellent teacher and had the right attitude to deal with losing. You have to be encouraged by what you've seen out of Brown and the Sixers this season.

Flyers Skate Update: Power play shakeup seems to be working

Flyers Skate Update: Power play shakeup seems to be working

VOORHEES, N.J. — They had taken another “0-for” on the power play on the road and lost a game in which they deserved to at least get a point.

Dave Hakstol had seen enough. Numbers don’t always tell a story. Yet, in the Flyers' case, they did: 4 for 42 on the power play over 12 games, including that 3-1 loss at Calgary.

The next morning in Edmonton, Hakstol met privately with Jakub Voracek to discuss, among other things, the power play. That night, Hakstol moved Voracek off the first unit power play and replaced him with Ivan Provorov.

He then told Shayne Gostisbehere to change his location on the power play on the half wall and let Provorov, the Russian rookie, worry about the blue line.

In the two games since, the power play is 3 for 6 and has the Flyers back up to ninth in the NHL after falling to 13th during that 12-game span of utter futility.

How the power play goes tonight against the Washington Capitals is critical if the Flyers have any shot of taking points away from the top club in the league.

“It’s a little bit different look,” Hakstol said. “We’re comfortable with either of the setups we have there. Whether it’s with Jake on the flank of the [Claude] Giroux unit or having Ghost there.

“Both are effective. Within the game, we can go back and forth with the other. We’ve had some pretty good play out of the other unit, regardless of the setup.”

Provorov has a very accurate point shot. Gostisbehere has the hardest shot of any on the top unit. The rest of the first unit – Giroux, Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds – hasn’t changed.

“We can’t score,” Provorov said bluntly. “We needed to change something up to spark the scoring. It definitely helped us. Now the two units have a different setup in the zone.

“Just a little different. It took us first game to get used to. We did pretty good in the second game [Vancouver].”

Ghost has never played the half-wall. He thinks this will help him snap a 32-game goal drought. He had three assists – two on the power play – against the Canucks on Sunday.

“It’s completely different,” Gostisbehere said. “I’ve always been at the top [blue line]. It’s definitely a different perspective from that view. I think I’ll get a lot more shots and plays that can be made.”

Voracek watches him when that unit is on the ice and offers advice after the shift.

“I have been talking to Jake a ton for pointers,” Gostisbehere said. “When I am out there, if you see something I could have done, please tell me. He is such an easy guy to talk to. He will give you the pointers right away.”

Hakstol said moving Ghost closer to the net has a payoff.

“He is in a pure one-timer side there if he gets himself in the right position,” Hakstol said. “But there is still some work we have to do there in terms of his overall positioning in that spot.

“He brings a different element than Jake does in that spot. Both of them were very, very effective in that spot. They just have different weapons.”

Even though there have been changes, Voracek still rotates back to the first unit if Provorov is on the ice the previous shift before the power play begins.

Because of Travis Konecny’s knee and ankle injuries, Sean Couturier’s second unit has changed the most. Mark Streit anchors from the point with Coots, Nick Cousins and Matt Read below the blue line and Voracek on the right-wall.

That unit has more player rotation on the ice than the top unit.

Hakstol doesn’t buy the argument the Flyers' power play crashed because it became too predictable. 

“In the game now, there’s not much hidden,” Hakstol said. “Everyone knows what the other team is trying to do, regardless of 5-on-5 or special teams.

“For us, it was a good time to make a small change that changes the look for our guys on the ice.”

Loose pucks
• A dozen players showed up for the optional morning skate at Skate Zone, more than half of what was expected. 

• Michal Neuvirth will start in goal tonight against Washington. 

• On Tuesday, Voracek got hit with a puck below the belt, during a tip drill in which Voracek tipped a shot into himself. “Feeling better,” he said today. 

• This morning was goalie Steve Mason’s turn to get hit. He took a point shot from Andrew MacDonald in the mask. Mason was temporarily shaken but no damage to either him or his mask.  

Lineup
F:
Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds
Weise-Couturier-Voracek
Raffl-Cousins-Read
VandeVelde-Bellemare-Lyubimov

D: Provorov-Manning
Gostisbehere-Streit
Del Zotto-Gudas

G: Neuvirth