At 1-year mark, Flyers coach Laviolette reflects on wild ride

Peter Laviolette on his team: 'Now, the next step, is the ultimate goal. We want to play a few more games' in the postseason.
Peter Laviolette on his team: 'Now, the next step, is the ultimate goal. We want to play a few more games' in the postseason.
Posted: December 03, 2010

Exactly 1 year ago today, after a lifeless loss to Vancouver, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren went to sleep knowing he needed to make a change.

Holmgren woke up the next morning wanting a "different voice" for the Flyers.

On that night, Peter Laviolette was using that voice as an analyst for TSN in Toronto - and was spending his days doing "the big things" around the house, like laundry and shuttling his kids to hockey practice near the family's home in Longboat Key, outside Bradenton, Fla.

Gone was John Stevens, a likable coach and father figure to many of the Flyers' young stars. Stevens since has landed on his feet as an assistant coach under another former Flyers coach, Terry Murray, in Los Angeles.

In the year that has passed, Laviolette has been the one constant through what seems like a roller-coaster ride - from 29th in the NHL, to a shootout victory on the last day of the regular season to make the playoffs, all the way to the Stanley Cup finals.

"It feels like 10 years," Laviolette joked.

Now, 1 year later, with the Flyers tied with three teams for third place overall in the NHL, Laviolette has his team in a position to take the next step.

"I think there is a belief in what we do," Laviolette said yesterday after practice. "There is a belief in the way that we play, a belief in the people in the [locker] room. There is a certain goal of what we're looking for. When we cheat any of that, we roll the dice."

In reality, Holmgren's coaching change was a roll of the dice. After a 1-5 run in late November, was that really what the Flyers needed? It has turned out to be one of the best moves of Holmgren's tenure as the Flyers' general manager - and there have been a lot of good ones.

"Last year seemed like two totally different seasons," forward James van Riemsdyk said. "Obviously when you have two different coaches, they have different approaches to get what they want done. It was a lot different when [Peter] came in. When you see it, it's a big wake-up call. He was a no-BS coach pretty much right from the start."

It was a gamble, too, for Laviolette. Would he have enough time, even in early December, to fully implement his vision? Pushing too far, too soon, could have sent the Flyers in a tailspin from which they never would have recovered.

Laviolette inherited a team in 22nd place, at 13-11-1. Through his first 10 games, a dismal 2-7-1 stretch, the Flyers plummeted to 29th place. You need to have the ultimate faith in your coaching philosophy - to not only convince your players that your system works, even with little tangible evidence - but to also stick with it.

"We put ourselves in a really big hole," Laviolette said. "The challenge [as a new coach] is to do it before you're done [the season] or it's too late [for the playoffs]. When you come in and drive them right from 22nd to 29th, you wonder if it's too late. It was a process until the last game of the year."

After that "learning period" and "adjustment," the Flyers shook off their setbacks during their slow ascent through the standings from 14th place to seventh in the Eastern Conference.

"When you're in 29th place, you can play four really good games in a row, and then you lose back-to-back games to Atlanta, which we did, it doesn't matter if Atlanta has a good team or not. That's a setback," Laviolette said. "But there was a steady climb there through it all - a lot more good than bad, even through the injuries and all."

Having witnessed Laviolette's magic - and experienced that the Stanley Cup on his resume from Carolina in 2006 is no fluke - his bark has more bite to his players now than it ever did. The proof is in the Flyers' 15-7-4 record. They are on pace to finish with a 47-22-13 record and 107 points, a 19-point improvement from last year.

"He has a great command of the locker room," van Riemsdyk said. "He seems to know what buttons to push with everyone. He was really honest. You can really respect a coach like that."

That mutual respect is what helped push the Flyers into June last season. It is what gives Laviolette a sense of pride when he looks back on his team's accomplishments - and looks toward future conquests.

"There's probably not a lot of teams that come from 29th just to get in [to the playoffs]," Laviolette said. "There's just too much; too many teams, too many good teams. Now, the next step, is the ultimate goal. We want to play a few more games."

Slap shots

Sergei Bobrovsky was named the NHL's Rookie of the Month for November yesterday. Bobrovsky is sixth in the NHL in both save percentage and goals against-average. He is tied for third in wins, despite winning just once in his last five appearances . . . Forward Dan Carcillo was cleared for contact yesterday and is available this weekend . . . Peter Laviolette said losses like Wednesday's shutout to the Bruins are "good sometimes because they make you remember what you need to do."

For more news and analysis, read

Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at

http://go.philly.com/frequentflyers. Follow him on Twitter at

http://twitter.com/DNFlyers.

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