Holmgren gives Laviolette a vote of confidence

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Peter Laviolette doesn't deserve blame for the Flyers' disappointing play, players and management agree.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Peter Laviolette doesn't deserve blame for the Flyers' disappointing play, players and management agree.
Posted: March 15, 2013

IF THE FLYERS are going to avoid watching the Stanley Cup playoffs go on without them for only the second time since 1995, they will do so with Peter Laviolette coaching mostly the same crop of players.

Despite swirling rumors and speculation, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said Thursday he has not given any consideration toward firing Laviolette.

"I haven't even thought about it," Holmgren said. "It hasn't even entered my mind. Right now, I think our team needs to play better. I don't think we can let the players off the hook here."

The Flyers (12-15-1) enter Friday night's rubber match against the Devils four points back of a playoff position, despite having played significantly more games than most of the teams they are chasing. Wednesday's 5-2 shellacking in New Jersey was the Flyers' eighth loss by three or more goals in 28 games, a total only last place Florida has topped.

Flyers chairman Ed Snider declined to comment on the state of the franchise.

Most of the Flyers acted legitimately surprised when asked point-blank after Thursday's practice whether Laviolette is at fault for their underwhelming performances. Captain Claude Giroux called it "a joke" that people would blame Laviolette.

"It's ultimately up to us," Wayne Simmonds said. "We're the guys who are on the ice. We're the ones going to execute the game plan. 'Lavy' just puts the game plan out; it's up to us to execute that. We're not doing that at the moment."

Though the Flyers' players acted surprised, it's far easier to fire the coach in the NHL than it is to fire all 23 players. Frankly, it's what the Flyers historically have done when a season turns sour, as it so obviously did Wednesday.

Last Saturday, Laviolette passed Ken Hitchcock for sixth all-time in Flyers history for games coached (249), yet he can rocket up to third if he just hangs on for the remaining 20 games of the season. Pat Quinn (262), John Stevens (263), and even Holmgren himself (264) all were forced to clean out their offices in this coaching witching hour.

In the time between when Buffalo hired Lindy Ruff and fired him last month, there were 170 coaching changes in the NHL, an average of 11.3 per season.

While Holmgren extinguished the fire under Laviolette's seat, he put the onus back on the players. Players said Holmgren addressed the team in a closed-door meeting. His message, at least through the media, was for the players to figure it out themselves.

"We're making a lot of mistakes," Holmgren said. "Some of them are from a lack of competitiveness. It's not like they're not trying. The game comes down to one-on-one battles. In the last few games, we weren't good.

"Against the Devils, if there were 100 puck battles, I don't know if we won a handful of them."

The Flyers, who have lost four out of five after it appeared they turned a corner with two straight wins over Ottawa and Washington, basically quit after New Jersey opened a 3-1 first-period lead.

"I don't think we're playing our hardest, playing our best," Simmonds said. "And this is when we really need to play our best."

Laviolette spent nearly 40 minutes with his players in a video session before practice on Thursday, pointing out the lowlights of Wednesday night's beating.

"It's good to see that stuff," Scott Hartnell said. "It's good to realize how bad we are and how stupid the mistakes are we've been making. It's time to correct them."

After adding Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble, Holmgren said it's clear he's not interested in making a major trade. The shortened season has kept more teams legitimately in the playoff race than a normal year, limiting the trade options. Plus, with a shortened season, Holmgren doesn't seem keen on moving the young players who would garner the most interest.

"Are we looking to get better? I think it's safe to say we always do that. But we're not burning up the phone lines to get something done here," Holmgren said. "We're not at the point where we'd ever make a big trade. I still like our team. I'd like them to play better. It's as simple as that."

Holmgren said it "doesn't make any sense" to talk about the holes left by Jaromir Jagr and Matt Carle via free agency, either. Every part of the Flyers' team - from Holmgren's decisions to Laviolette's complete change in scheme to the players' consistent blunders - likely deserves a share of the blame.

"Nobody is really happy with the position we're in, or probably with the way we've played," Holmgren said. "We've got our work cut out for us. The points we've missed out on obtaining, it's a difficult task. We've got to get better quickly."

Slap shots

Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur skated again Thursday, but did not make the trip to Philadelphia. Johan Hedberg will be in net again . . . Defensemen Luke Schenn (flu) and Kimmo Timonen (maintenance day) both missed Thursday's 45-minute practice. Schenn could be back in the lineup. Paul Holmgren said Bruno Gervais also battled flu-like symptoms, but felt better on Thursday.

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