Rich Hofmann: Laviolette has his team Flyering on all cylinders

Peter Laviolette has succeeded in building an identity for the Flyers - that of an aggressive forechecking team.
Peter Laviolette has succeeded in building an identity for the Flyers - that of an aggressive forechecking team. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: May 02, 2012

THE FLYERS did not get a sniff of the NHL's postseason awards this season, and the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year was the final sniffle. The three finalists, all worthy, are the Rangers' John Tortorella, the Senators' Paul MacLean and the guy who should win, the Blues' Ken Hitchcock.

And Peter Laviolette? The Flyers' coach will have to settle for having the most stylistically entertaining and identifiable team left in the Stanley Cup tournament.

Lots of teams in the NHL say they want to forecheck. Laviolette demands it. Plenty of coaches have teams that aspire to be fast and aggressive. Laviolette insists upon it like a preacher at a revival meeting.

For many people, the favorite Laviolette quote from the HBO "24/7" series was from the first episode, when he said, "We are not a conservative team. We are a let's-bleeping-giddy-up-and-go type of team" And that does pretty much tie the whole philosophy together with an orange-and-black bow.

Still, this quote from the final episode also stands out. It was during the third-period timeout that Laviolette called in the Winter Classic. The coach was in his familiar position, leaning over amid the group of players crowding around him. His tone was insistent. His message was plain.

He said, "We've got to get pucks to the net, and it's got to be a full bleeping assault."

It is less colorful, but cleaner somehow. There is no giddy-up, but the simple demand for ferocity. It is what you saw as Sunday's Game 1 win over the New Jersey Devils wore on, that style of play. It is the best thing that happened for the Flyers, that imposition of their will.

In the modern NHL, under the current rules, Laviolette is the man who awakened the echoes of the Flyers' identity. The historical image is that of a Flyers team that hits first and asks questions later - and, yes, this team can play that way if the situation seems advantageous.

But that is not what they are. These Flyers are fierce, and at their most fearsome, when they are skating hard, not necessarily hitting hard. When they get it going, as they began to do in the second period of their Game 1 win over the Devils, they become this great, rambunctious machine.

You look at the way James van Riemsdyk played in the game, so much as he did last year in the playoffs, and you see this rollicking colt of a player who can be the perfect combination of skating and size. He was born to play this style. He laughs when you ask him whether it is more fun than some other styles.

"It's pretty much all I've known since I've been a pro," JVR said, seeing as how Laviolette was hired soon after he arrived. "It's definitely fun. You're always on your skates. You always seem to be attacking forward and getting a lot of chances and creating a lot of shots. It's definitely fun to play."

And, yes, it shows.

Looking back on the slow start in Game 1 against the Devils, and comparing it with later, Laviolette talked about playing the style and about "an intensity and a willingness" to do it.

"We were a little bit slow with what we were doing in the first period," he said, "and when you're a little bit slow, you're a little bit late. I think that improved, first and foremost."

The Devils probably are sitting around thinking, OK, maybe Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is gettable. Through six games of one series and one game of the second, it is a fair question. Bryzgalov was very good at the end of the Pittsburgh series, but he was uneven before that, and he was uneven in Game 1 against the Devils - excellent early, less so late. Again, it is fair to wonder.

But on the other side, there is this style of play question. The Flyers were dictating in a serious way in the second half of that game, and the Devils were wearing down. It is fair to wonder whether they can handle 2 weeks of this kind of attack on their territory.

Laviolette says a lot of factors are involved in figuring out how his team will be able to release the hounds, but he says he does not worry at the start of a series whether his team will be able to get it accomplished. It is their style, and it is who they are, and he says he is always confident it will happen.

And when it does? In the locker room, van Riemsdyk was saying, "Obviously, the team that can dictate how they want to play - that's obviously huge in a playoff series."

And when it happens, everyone knows it when they see it. It is Laviolette's greatest accomplishment: an identity.


Contact Rich Hofmann at hofmanr@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheIdleRich.

Read his blog, The Idle Rich, at www.philly.com/TheIdleRich.

For recent columns go to www.philly.com/RichHofmann.

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