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)

NFL Preseason Wrap: Both offenses sluggish in Giants win over Jets

NFL Preseason Wrap: Both offenses sluggish in Giants win over Jets

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a touchdown pass to Eric Decker and the New York Jets' defense stifled Eli Manning and the New York Giants' starters in a 21-20 preseason loss Saturday night.

Both teams' first-string offenses did very little in the last regular-season tuneup for most starters, but Fitzpatrick connected with Decker for a 22-yard score three plays after Darrelle Revis intercepted Manning on a pass intended for Odell Beckham Jr. in Giants territory in the second quarter.

Fitzpatrick finished 9 of 16 for 76 yards with the score and lost a fumble in the red zone before being replaced by Geno Smith just before halftime.

Manning was 10 of 15 for 65 yards and an interception while playing one series into the third quarter. The Giants' starters managed just 61 total yards against Todd Bowles' defense.

The Giants (1-2) didn't get past the 50-yard line until a facemask penalty on Brandon Bostick on a punt return put them at the Jets 47 with 2:36 left in the third quarter (see full recap).

Siemian solidifies QB job in Denver's 17-9 win over Rams
DENVER -- Trevor Siemian threw his first touchdown pass of the preseason and tightened his grip on the Denver Broncos' starting quarterback job in a 17-9 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday night.

After showing off his strong right arm over a first half that included a 1-yard pass to Virgil Green, Siemian accepted hugs from his teammates and gave way to rookie Paxton Lynch, who was also impressive in his half of play.

That left Mark Sanchez as the odd man out on this night and, plausibly, come cut-down day. If he's not on the 53-man roster, the Broncos will save $3.5 million and the seventh-round draft pick they would have owed the Eagles.

It was Sanchez's job to lose when training camp began and he's apparently done just that with a slew of turnovers in the preseason, although coach Gary Kubiak had steadfastly declined to name a starter up to this point.

An afterthought while taking just one snap - a kneel-down - as a rookie last season, Siemian has emerged as the best option to lead Denver's defense of its Super Bowl title with Peyton Manning on the links and Brock Osweiler in Houston (see full recap).

Smith, Chiefs look sharp in 23-7 victory over Bears
CHICAGO -- Alex Smith looked sharp in leading three scoring drives in the first half and the Kansas City Chiefs got a 23-7 preseason victory over the Chicago Bears on Saturday.

Smith completed 20 of 30 passes for 181 yards before Nick Foles came in to start the third quarter. The defense strangled Chicago's offense, and the Chiefs (1-2) came away with the win after dropping their first two exhibitions.

Kansas City has one more tuneup against Green Bay before opening against San Diego on Sept. 11. But in what is generally the final dress rehearsal for the starters, the Chiefs dominated.

"I certainly feel like we're ready as far as game speed, as far as getting the trials, getting enough plays," Smith said. "I felt like we got in a lot of different situations - the goal line, short yardage, red zone, got a little two-minute today. That's kind of what you want, I feel like, in the preseason."

Kansas City got two second-quarter field goals from Cairo Santos and a 1-yard touchdown run by Spencer Ware in the closing seconds of the half to take a 13-0 lead. But the score didn't reflect just how lopsided the game was (see full recap).

Mariota, Carr both sharp in Titans' 27-14 win over Raiders
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr look ready for the season to start after a successful preseason dress rehearsal.

Mariota led Tennessee to scores on all four drives he played and Carr threw two touchdown passes for Oakland and the Titans beat the Raiders 27-14 on Saturday night.

"All in all, guys have put in the work," Mariota said. "We've built a pretty solid offseason in the preseason. Now it's just putting it all together once the season starts."

With the starters getting their most playing time in the third week of the preseason, the offenses looked in midseason form while both first-team defenses struggled mightily.

That left Raiders coach Jack Del Rio frustrated, especially about a first-team run defense that couldn't slow down DeMarco Murray or Derrick Henry on the ground (see full recap).

Sam Bradford, first-team offense roll in preseason win over Colts

Sam Bradford, first-team offense roll in preseason win over Colts

INDIANAPOLIS – After the Eagles’ 33-23 preseason win over the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night, Sam Bradford was asked one question he didn’t quite know how to answer.

What didn’t go right for the offense?
 
“It’d be tough (answer),” Bradford said. “I think I could probably give you a better answer after we watch the film.”
 
It wasn’t a tough question to answer just because he hadn’t yet watched the film. It was a tough question to answer because it didn’t seem like much went wrong for Bradford or the first-team offense on Saturday night (see Instant Replay).
 
Bradford was incredibly efficient, completing 17 of 20 passes for 167 yards, two touchdowns and an interception that clearly wasn’t his fault. Aside from the end of the half, the first-team offense scored on its last four possessions.
 
Thanks to the offensive line, Bradford stayed clean. The running backs – Ryan Matthews and Kenjon Barner – averaged 10.3 and 6.5 yards per carry, respectively. And the wide receivers actually made some big-time plays (see 10 observations).
 
“Obviously, tonight, to come out, to execute the way we did, it was nice,” Bradford said. “I was really happy with the communication up front, with the line of scrimmage. I thought our tempo in and out of the huddle was really good again tonight, getting to the line quickly. Overall, I thought the execution tonight was great. It’s obviously something that we can build on moving forward.”
 
Bradford finished the game with a passer rating of 114 and he was probably even better than that. He didn’t have a bad throw on the night. The interception was a bobbled drop from Nelson Agholor, one pass soared over Dorial Green-Beckham’s head after the wideout stopped running the route and the third was a pass broken up by a nice play in the third quarter.
 
Bradford averaged just 9.8 yards per completion, but was clearly on his game in Indy, even outplaying Andrew Luck.
 
“I thought tonight obviously culminated everything, his hard work that he's put in all through the offseason and through training camp,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Again, I made the decision way back in OTAs to split all the reps three ways all the way through training camp. This was the first week that Sam's had 100 percent of the reps and it showed tonight.”
 
Of course, playing well in the third preseason game isn’t anything new for Bradford. No one can forget his magical 10-for-10 performance last year against the Packers, when the Eagles were very prematurely crowned Super Bowl champs.
 
So Bradford and the offense looked good on Saturday night … but it’s just the preseason.
 
Now, they turn their attention to the Browns and the opener on Sept. 11.
 
“I think everyone in that locker room realizes that before Week 1 gets here, we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” he said. “Obviously, this is a big week coming up for us to get a jump on Cleveland, try to get some extra work in. I think it was nice to execute the way we did tonight. We can build on that, but I think we all realize the regular season is a different animal and we’re going to have to take it to another level.”

Best of MLB: Rookie Gary Sanchez hits another HR, Yankees rout Orioles, 13-5

Best of MLB: Rookie Gary Sanchez hits another HR, Yankees rout Orioles, 13-5

Best of MLB: Gary Sanchez hits another HR, Yankees rout O's, 13-5

NEW YORK -- Rookie Gary Sanchez kept up a most remarkable run, homering for the third straight game as the New York Yankees routed the Baltimore Orioles 13-5 Saturday.

Sanchez hit a drive that bounced off the top of the right-center field wall and over in the fourth inning. He reached 11 career home runs faster than anyone in major league history -- 23 games, including two hitless games last year.

After the switch-hitting catcher connected, the crowd of 38,843 emphatically chanted his name. Mark Teixeira stepped out of the batter's box, pausing the game, allowing the 23-year-old to tip his batting helmet to the fans from the top of the dugout steps.

Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks also homered as the Yankees won their fourth in a row. A day after trouncing the Orioles 14-4, New York moved within 2 1/2 games of them for the second AL wild-card spot.

Chris Davis homered twice and Mark Trumbo hit his big league-leading 39th home run for Baltimore, which has dropped three straight (see full recap).

Pedroia falls short of record, Red Sox beat Royals 8-3
BOSTON -- Dustin Pedroia had four hits to extend his streak to 11 straight at-bats before bouncing into a double play with a chance to tie the major-league record and the Boston Red Sox beat the Kansas City Royals 8-3 on Saturday night.

Pedroia's streak, which stretched over three games, ended in the eighth inning. The big league mark of hits in 12 straight official at-bats is shared by Walt Dropo for Detroit in 1952, Pinky Higgins of the Red Sox in 1938 and Johnny Kling of the Cubs in 1902.

Xander Bogaerts homered and drove in three runs, and Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez hit consecutive homers for Boston, which snapped a three-game losing streak.

David Price (13-8) won his fourth straight start, giving up two runs in six innings.

Danny Duffy (11-2) gave up three homers and seven runs in five innings, halting a personal 10-game winning streak.

Salvador Perez hit two solo homers for the Royals, who lost for just the fourth time 20 games (see full recap).

Harper ejected as Nats lose 9-4 to Rockies in 11 innings
WASHINGTON -- Charlie Blackmon hit two home runs, including the go-ahead shot in the 11th inning, as the Colorado Rockies beat the Washington Nationals 9-4 Saturday to snap a four-game losing streak.

Blackmon connected in the third off starter A.J. Cole, then hit a two-run drive off Yusmeiro Petit (3-4). Blackmon has 23 home runs this season and five multihomer games.

Carlos Gonzalez also hit a two-run homer off Petit, his 24th of the season and 200th of his career.

Jake McGee (1-3) got the win by pitching a perfect 10th, which included a strikeout of Bryce Harper that led to the reigning NL MVP being ejected.

Called out on strikes, Harper immediately began yelling at plate umpire Mike Winters and threw his helmet to the ground before getting tossed.

Rockies second baseman D.J. LeMahieu went 3 for 5 to pass the Nationals' Daniel Murphy for the NL batting lead (see full recap).

Julio Urias' strong start guides Dodgers past Cubs, 3-2
LOS ANGELES -- Julio Urias allowed one run over six innings, Corey Seager set a Dodgers franchise record for a shortstop with his 23rd home run and Los Angeles defeated the Chicago Cubs 3-2 on Saturday to even the series between NL division leaders.

Urias (5-2) pitched better at home than the last time he faced the Cubs. The rookie left-hander made his second career start in Chicago on June 2 and gave up six runs -- five earned -- and eight hits in five innings while serving up three homers.

This time, he allowed six hits and tied a career high with eight strikeouts and two walks. He is 4-0 in six games (four starts) since the All-Star break.

Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his 38th save a day after allowing a run on a wild pitch in the ninth in a 6-4, 10-inning loss.

The Cubs' four-game winning streak ended behind the shortest outing of the season from Jason Hammel (13-7) (see full recap).