For Flyers, it's time for perspiration and desperation

Peter Laviolette is looking for desperate play from his team.
Peter Laviolette is looking for desperate play from his team.
Posted: March 29, 2011

PITTSBURGH - There are a lot of things in professional sports that can be faked.

Injuries. Hard work. Leadership.

One thing that cannot be faked is desperation.

Put simply, the Flyers have not had much of it over the past few weeks, save a shootout loss to the Capitals a week ago at the Wells Fargo Center. They do not deny that.

The Flyers, like the rest of us, are human. And that's a human response - because they haven't had much of a need to sweat.

Despite inconsistencies in effort from period to period and shift to shift, and a string of poor mental - but rarely physical - errors, the Flyers have left the arena after each game with their city still etched atop the Eastern Conference standings.

For his part, coach Peter Laviolette has urged caution in his pre- and postgame meetings with the media - always a calming influence, never too high or too low after a game.

For weeks, he has maintained that his team will snap out of it. A switch will be flipped.

And his actions - the ones that we can see from behind the bench - speak to that. He has not drastically changed any lines. There have been no closed-door meetings. There has been no tongue-lashing in the papers. Players' surroundings in their comfortable locker room, where each man has sat in the same stall all season, have not been jumbled.

Something, though, has been missing. And Laviolette knows that.

It's evident most in the Flyers' style, the one Laviolette brought with him when he was hired on Dec. 4, 2009. There is no hunger in the Flyers' attack - and that's where the desperation comes in.

"I think if there's one area we can continue to press on, it's the offense," Laviolette said yesterday. "[We need] more time in the offensive zone, establishing that identity that makes us a successful team.

"And by doing more of that, we play less in our zone."

That's where the desperation, the emotion you can't fake, comes into play.

"I think it's more of a mindset," Laviolette said. "Since I've been here, they've picked it up. I think it's more of a mindset."

In all honesty, the Flyers haven't had much luck at the end of games. A few dekes or a few saves either way, during their stretch of four straight shootouts last week, would have drastically changed the outlook on the Flyers' run.

Suddenly, a 5-0-4 stretch could have been 7-0-2.

"The close games that we've lost, most of them have been decided by the shootout," Laviolette noted. "I don't know if that's a clear, deciding factor on how your team played."

Laviolette doesn't put much stock in those games. Deservedly so. You can't go to a shootout in the Stanley Cup playoffs, where lengthy overtimes are the sport's bread and butter in the spring.

Still, an inability to close out those games speaks to a lack of attention to detail. Now, this week, the Flyers may have no choice.

They had a chance last week, with a win over the Capitals, to put the Penguins out of their misery in the Atlantic Division. Two points against Washington would have allowed a four-point cushion in the Eastern Conference and a six-point edge in the Atlantic.

Now the Penguins, who have won four straight - all in shootouts - and have scored just two regulation goals in their last three games, can draw even with a win tonight.

"I don't think we've ever not sweat [the standings]," Danny Briere said. "It's not like we have a 15-point cushion where we were coasting. But the goal is to finish first in the conference. There was never really a point where I was comfortable with the four- or six-point lead that we had."

Subconsciously or not, Briere chose to speak for himself in that regard. Maybe there was a little bit of laurel-resting in the Flyers' locker room.

No matter what, the Flyers will still hold the top spot in the East when they leave Pittsburgh late tonight. They will hold the games in-hand tiebreaker over both the Penguins and Capitals.

But by Thursday, the Flyers could be in fourth place in the East, as the NHL seeds the three division leaders among the top eight teams in the conference. And playing Tampa Bay in the first round of the playoffs, as opposed to Buffalo or Montreal, could be reason enough to sweat.

"I know I can rely on the guy sitting beside me," Briere said. "I know we have the team to play in the playoffs. I look around the room and 90 percent of the guys were here last year and they know what it takes when the game is on the line."

For the last 3 weeks, the standings have not been on the line. Tonight, they are. Officially.

And if that doesn't bring out the desperation, you have to wonder whether the puck dropping on April 14 in South Philly will.

"That's something you can't . . . you can't fabricate it," Laviolette said. "When the playoffs roll around, there should be and will be desperation in our game. Because now you're talking about winning four or losing four [in a series] and then you become desperate."


 The Flyers took their annual team picture yesterday, which included forward Ian Laperriere, who has not played a single game all season but has remained on the long-term injured reserve . . . The Islanders decreased their ticket prices for next season. They are last in NHL attendance this season with an average draw of just 10,650 at Nassau Coliseum . . . The Flyers raised $31,000 for Flyers Charities last Thursday with their annual game-used stick raffle at the Wells Fargo Center.


 3: Points for Kris Versteeg in the last four games, collecting two goals and one assist.

5: Consecutive starts for Sergei Bobrovsky prior to Brian Boucher's starting nod on Sunday.

20: Turnovers for the Flyers on Sunday night against Boston, more than double their seasonlong average of 8.11 per game.


at Pittsburgh, tonight, 7 o'clock

It has been an interesting run for the Penguins over the last few weeks, as they are now 8-2-0 in their last 10 games despite all of their injuries. According to reports, star Sidney Crosby may be closer to skating with his teammates in practice. Crosby has been skating on his own for a couple weeks after sitting out for 3 months with postconcussion symptoms. But that doesn't make him any closer to a return, which the Penguins may delay until next season.

vs. Atlanta, Thursday, 7 o'clock

Thursday night is Bill Barber Banner Night at the Wells Fargo Center, when Barber's retired No. 7 banner that hung in the Spectrum will be presented to him with his grandchildren by his side at center ice. The Thrashers, meanwhile, are all but eliminated from the playoff race as they are nine points back of eighth place.

at New Jersey, Friday, 7 o'clock

Ilya Kovalchuk officially pronounced New Jersey's playoff hopes dead at approximately 9:30 p.m. last Friday, after the Devils dropped a 1-0 shootout decision to the Penguins. Still, it was a heck of a second-half run as the Devils rallied from 27 points back to claw within five points of a playoff spot. Just imagine what it would have been like if Jacques Lemaire had started the season as head coach.

vs. New York Rangers, Sunday, 12:30 p.m.

So, you remember the last time the Flyers and Rangers met on a Sunday afternoon in April on national television at the Wells Fargo Center, right? It was April 11, 2010, when the Flyers bested Henrik Lundqvist in a shootout. Not as much will be on the line in this season's version of the matchup. But it still could be interesting for seeding, especially if the Flyers fumble the three previous games in the week. Plus, it's their first rematch since a 7-0 public humiliation on March 6 at Madison Square Garden.

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