Inside the Flyers: Laviolette is big reason for Flyers' success

Danny Briere, Jaromir Jagr, and Claude Giroux during a stop in play. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Danny Briere, Jaromir Jagr, and Claude Giroux during a stop in play. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer (Coach Peter Laviolette instructs)
Posted: April 01, 2012

Peter Laviolette didn't want to talk about himself.

"We're in a playoff race and the focus shouldn't be on me," the Flyers' always-driven coach said after practice Friday afternoon.

The Flyers are not only in a playoff race, but they are also among the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

And, though he deflects the praise, a lot of the credit belongs to Laviolette.

Ken Hitchcock, who has resurrected the St. Louis Blues since being hired on Nov. 6, will probably win the NHL's coach-of-the-year award. On merit.

But that doesn't diminish the sensational job done by Laviolette.

Laviolette, 47, had to remold the team after general manager Paul Holmgren boldly dealt the faces of the franchise, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, last June.

He lost his captain, Chris Pronger, to post-concussion syndrome in November, and he has watched as key players such as Danny Briere, Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk, Andrej Meszaros, and Brayden Schenn went down with injuries at different times.

In addition, Laviolette managed to keep his team in contention despite a goalie, Ilya Bryzgalov, who suffered through several mediocre (or worse) months before finding his mojo.

Oh, and Laviolette has incorporated a dozen rookies into the lineup - and gotten them to mesh with the veterans quicker than anyone expected. The rookies have added speed, and they entered Saturday with an NHL-best 59 goals, accounting for 24.1 percent of the team's scoring.

"He's done an outstanding job of keeping us in line, and having guys step up and teaching them their role and the system," forward Max Talbot said. "We've been pretty consistent. February wasn't really a great month for us, but most months we were over .500 and we rarely lost two in a row. We've been a really consistent team, given everything that happened with the injuries."

Entering the weekend, the Flyers needed three wins in their last five games to reach the 48-victory mark, which would be the franchise's most since 1985-86.

Talbot was asked to compare Laviolette to his previous coach, the Penguins' highly successful Dan Bylsma. Both have led teams to Stanley Cups.

"They're both passionate coaches. They're both well-spoken," Talbot said. "Lavy's a great motivator in speeches and stuff like that. He's smart at getting us ready for the game and taking timeouts at the right time."

Ah, the Lavy Timeout. It has become almost legendary. No one keeps statistics on it, but Laviolette seems to have a knack for calling a timeout that leads to a Flyers goal and turns the game back in his club's favor.

Laviolette's mastery of when to call his timeout started in the minors. He learned the hard way.

"When I was in Wheeling, I wanted to call a timeout and I didn't - and something bad happened," said Laviolette, who began his coaching career with the ECHL team in 1997-98. "And from that day forward, no matter what somebody says, if I think I should call it, I call it. I go with what's in my gut and go from there. If my gut tells me to call a timeout, I do it, regardless of whether it's normal or not normal. Somebody might not think it's called for, but if it's in my gut and I see something and don't like it, I call it.

"Somebody asked me once, 'Why did you call that timeout?' And I said, 'Because I thought we were going to get scored on.' "

Laviolette, a Massachusetts native who directed the Carolina Hurricanes to the 2006 Stanley Cup, will probably get lost in the coach-of-the-year voting because Hitchcock has transformed the Blues into a power, John Tortorella has guided the Rangers to the top of the East, and Kevin Dineeen has Florida headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2000.

But he is the perfect coach for blue-collar Philadelphia. Fans love coaches who match their passion; love coaches who aren't afraid to show their emotional side. You could feel Laviolette's popularity rise among the masses when he talked about his players needing more jam in HBO's 24/7.

He talks in Everyday Speak. For instance, this is how he described the situation when asked about not having the injured Bryzgalov for Thursday's game against the Maple Leafs.

"I'd rather talk about the players available and what we're going to do in Toronto, as opposed to the 'woe us' or try to 'win one for the Gipper' speech," he said. "We stay away from that crap and focus on what we can do."

Laviolette's four-year contract ends at the end of next season. Do not be surprised if he gets a contract extension before then.

"I think what coaches in the league need to be now is really good communicators," said Peter Luukko, president of the Flyers' parent company, Comcast-Spectacor. "I think our guys know he's all for them, but at the same time, he's the boss. And I think that's very impressive."

Laviolette's intense personality transfers onto the ice.

"From a style of play, I think it's great. We have an aggressive style of play, an aggressive forecheck," Luukko said. "He plays to win every night. He doesn't take losing very easily. He wants to go 82-0."

The fact that a dozen Flyers rookies have played this season is partly because of all the injuries. But it is also partly by design.

"That's another attribute of Peter's," said Luukko, mindful that Hitchcock wasn't as patient with inexperienced players. "It's become a very young league because of the cap and because these kids come here so prepared now. I think that's the New Age coach. He's not afraid to play the young guys and play them in difficult situations."

Laviolette trusts his players, young and old.

The feeling is mutual.


Inside the Flyers: Climbing the Coaching Ladder

Though he has been the Flyers coach for less than three seasons, Peter Laviolette has moved up among the franchise leaders. Entering Saturday, only four coaches in the franchise's 45-season history had more wins with the Flyers than Laviolette. Here is the list:

COACH    YEARS    RECORD   WIN PCT.

1. Fred Shero*    7    308-151-95    .642

2. Mike Keenan     4    190-102-28    .638

3. Pat Quinn     4    141-73-48    .630

4. Ken Hitchcock     3    130-77-39    .608

5. Peter Laviolette     3    120-71-25    .613

* won two Stanley Cups

- Sam Carchidi


Contact Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com or

on Twitter @BroadStBull.

 

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|