Flyers guarding against starting All-Star break too soon

Peter Laviolette is looking for a better effort tonight than in game before the Christmas break.
Peter Laviolette is looking for a better effort tonight than in game before the Christmas break.
Posted: January 25, 2011

The message, though brief, was clear.

After playing back-to-back games - as the Flyers did this weekend against New Jersey on Saturday and in Chicago on Sunday afternoon - Peter Laviolette almost never holds practice the following day.

But yesterday, the Flyers geared up for a full, hourlong practice at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, perhaps with the reminder of the Dec. 20 loss to Florida fresh in their minds.

That defeat - a poignant, 5-0 romping by the Panthers - before the Flyers were to embark on an 7-day holiday layoff, resonated throughout the locker room.

Tonight, the Flyers are in a similar circumstance with a generous schedule, as they face the Canadiens on the eve of their All-Star break that doesn't officially begin until Thursday - but Laviolette agreed to begin a day early without any remaining games on the docket.

Starting tomorrow, some Flyers will scatter across the globe on vacation while others will remain home to relax with their families and soothe their bumps and bruises.

"It's something that we've already addressed,'' Danny Briere said. "You can't be leaving early and checking out like we did the first time around.''

More than a month later, that public flogging remains the worst loss of the Flyers' season, one of only two games they've been shut out, and one of just 12 blemishes on their sparkling record.

Consider: Since the start of the playoffs last spring, the Flyers are a ridiculous 39-13-2 against the Eastern Conference.

Last month, Laviolette was very vocal in warning his team about the pitfalls of playing a game before a break. It didn't matter. Laviolette can't play the games himself.

"We didn't do very well last time we had a break,'' Laviolette said. "We talked about it briefly. All you can do is address things and bring it to [their] attention. It's a big game and an important game. We want to make sure we end it the right way.''

Briere said, though, that he believes not only the bitter taste from last month's loss but also the opponent - the NHL's version of the Yankees - will keep the Flyers from looking ahead. Florida hasn't made the playoffs in nine straight seasons, soon to become the longest drought for one team in one city in NHL history.

"I think it's a little bit of a different setup this time around with Montreal,'' Briere said. "We have a rivalry there and games are a little bit more intense. I think the motivation factor will be a lot easier to find.''

If it's not, don't be surprised if Laviolette decides to snatch back that earlier-than-normal departure.

Killing 'em softly

Success on the penalty kill is largely determined by the bounce of the puck. You need to look no further for evidence than the rare empty-net, power-play goal scored against the Flyers on Saturday against New Jersey that broke a 9-for-9 streak.

It's the only way Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube could explain his unit, which has bounced from 25th in the NHL all the way up to seventh, but has hovered mainly in the middle this season.

"I think you go through stretches where it's really good,'' Berube said. "And I think you go through some stretches where you get bad luck. I don't know if a lot changes.''

Recently, though, Berube believes his killers have found success because opponents are wary of the Flyers' two-pronged attack of Mike Richards and Claude Giroux. They have combined for six shorthanded goals this season, which alone would tie the Flyers for third in the NHL. Andreas Nodl also has a shortie, so the Flyers are tied for second.

An offensively less dangerous unit with Darroll Powe and Blair Betts helps ease the burden on the Flyers' stars in taxing situations - with travel, back-to-back games or heavy power-play use.

"When 'Richie' and 'G' are on and attacking,'' Berube said, "it puts [the opponent's] power play on edge because they have that energy and skill to go the other way and score. That helps a lot. They know that we're going to jump on any loose puck. When they're energized, they're dangerous.''

Slap shots

Forward James van Riemsdyk, suffering from a lower-body injury, took part in yesterday's full practice. General manager Paul Holmgren listed him as "doubtful'' for tonight's game . . . In addition to Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Edmonton selections Ales Hemsky and rookie Jordan Eberle withdrew from the All-Star Weekend festivities due to injury. Flyers captain Mike Richards said he already has made other commitments and would be unable to participate.

Stat watch

4: Number of players on the Flyers with 40 or more points (Claude Giroux, 46; Mike Richards, 45; Danny Briere, 43; Jeff Carter, 43), the most in the NHL.

10: Number of points for Giroux in the last six games, since breaking a 0-game goal-scoring drought on Jan. 14 in Atlanta. He has at least one point in each of the last six games.

91.6 Success rate with which the Flyers have killed penalties over the last five games (11-for-12), including shutting out the league's top power play in Chicago on Sunday. The lone blemish was an empty-net goal on Saturday against New Jersey.

The week ahead

vs. Montreal

Tonight, 7:30 p.m.

Despite racking up a 6-1-3 record over their last 10 contests, the Canadiens invade Wells Fargo Center with the worst road record (11-11-1) of any team currently in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. This is the Flyers' last meeting with Montreal in the regular season. The Flyers won the first two meetings, including a 5-3 decision at the Bell Centre on Dec. 15. Since being acquired on Dec. 29 from the Islanders, defenseman James Wisniewski has posted 12 points in 12 games with the Habs.

All-Star Break


While Claude Giroux, Danny Briere and coach Peter Laviolette will fly to Raleigh, N.C., on Friday to begin the All-Star Weekend festivities, the rest of the Flyers will scatter around North America beginning tomorrow. The team will reconvene on Monday in Tampa for practice prior to Tuesday's game against the Lightning.

Phantoms phile

At the beginning of January, the Phantoms were on pace to finish the season with the worst record in the 75-year history of the AHL. Thanks to a 5-3-3 record this month, there is a fresh focus in Adirondack under new coach Joe Paterson. The Phantoms knocked off top-ranked Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 4-2, Friday night in front of 18,056 at the Wells Fargo Center in their return to their occasional former home. It was the 10th-largest crowd in AHL history.

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