When John Stevens became the first coach fired this season, very few eyebrows were raised.
The Flyers had stumbled their way through the first portion of the season with remarkable inconsistency. Here is a look at a year that started with extremely high expectations. Win 3, lose 3, win 2, lose 2, win 7 of 8, lose 6 of 7.
Next step, fire coach.
I was at the last game of Stevens' tenure, an uninspired 3-0 loss to Vancouver. It was pretty remarkable to watch a Flyer team play at home with so little vigor. The building was dead, the team was offered little structure through the middle of the ice, and although they had 38 shots on net, Roberto Luongo said he had a clean look at almost every one. When the Flyers acquired Chris Pronger in the summer, I believed that they had as good a chance as anyone to make it through the Eastern conference. With my feeling that the Flyers would be very good, I had said that Stevens would be a Coach of the Year candidate or the first coach fired. There was no middle ground here.
One issue that has to be put to rest, one of new coach Peter Laviolette's priorities, is the meshing of his leadership group. Mike Richards is 24, the captain, and in a somewhat awkward spot (through no one's fault), but an awkward spot nonetheless. Kimmo Timonen was a captain in Nashville, Chris Pronger has been a captain in a couple places. The older players need to support Richards, even hold his hand a bit, so everyone gets a sense that the group is on the same page. Pronger, in particular, can do that. I played with Chris in St. Louis, and he is a dominant personality. He doesn't have to say anything and people look to him to pull the bus.
I believe the firm hand of Laviolette will be a good thing here, that players will have roles clearly defined, and eventually the Flyers will right themselves. And a final thought on the Flyers: If you only get one chance to make a first impression, where was Dan Carcillo's brain Saturday night in his first game for Laviolette. His ridiculous response to a Matt Bradley hit left the Flyers short handed for nine minutes, and three goals against later, the most penalized team in the league was on the way to an 8-2 drubbing. Time to mend the image, Dan.
1) When I interviewed Zach Parise before the game Wednesday vs Vancouver - I asked him what he was more satisfied with .. a 10 game point streak, or the fact he hadn't been on the ice for a goal against of any kind since Nov. 4. My bad, he was on the ice for 3 goals against in the 1st period. I won't do that again-sorry Zach, bad luck-didn't mean to throw the hex on you. .
2) Rick DiPietro had a rehab start in the AHL this weekend (3 GA on 13 shots) in his first game action since last January. He is scheduled to make 2 more rehab starts before returning to the Islanders later this month. If healthy, it will allow the Islanders to move a goalie, probably Marty Biron, but it sure will be difficult to gauge how DiPietro will fare long term. He has had a brutal 2 seasons health wise. He must be cautious, if his body lets him down again it will be hard to imagine that he can ever play to the level that many thought he was capable of.
3) The Flames bring their league best 11-2-3 road record to LA tonight, wrapping up their six-game trip in which they currently sit at 4-1-0. The Flames are getting production from a revived Olli Jokinen (4-10-14 in the last 14 games), have somehow shuttled 7 wingers through Jokinen and Jarome Iginla's left side with success, and are receiving brilliant goaltending from Miikka Kiprusoff. His back heel save on Saturday against the Sharks Scot Nichol will most certainly be in the plays of the year video at season's end. Now they have to find the same formula at the Saddledome.