Let me start off by saying I like John Stevens a lot and I think he is a promising young coach... But when you look at the Flyers struggles this season and factor in the personnel that was brought in, it seems that the philosophy is flawed and/or the message is not getting through. Either one of those explanations starts with the coach.
A team can take a night off here and there or have mental lapses for stretches in games. But this team has had way too many nights where we have heard the same mantras repeated over and over about "attention to details" "playing hard for 60 minutes" "matching the intensity of the other team" and the like... Often for several consecutive games in a row. Think about the long February and pre-Christmas losing streaks for this team, many of the other losses they have suffered and even some of the games they won this year and you find some very common themes: Slow starts, too many guys on their heals, and lack of urgency in crucial times (particularly in 3rd periods).
I have tried to figure out other explanations before blaming a coach in his first full season, including:
* Could a team who added in so many new faces be going through an extended feeling out process for each other?
* Could the players be overconfident? Either in their abilities going in to the game or because of how they have been able to come back so often?
* Do the players need to be faced with adversity to get going?
* Is leadership lacking on this team? (that went out the window real fast)
I think if you look at those possibilities, you see that the answer is no, or at least not enough to explain why this team has underachieved for much of this season. No, I didn't expect a Stanley Cup year--in fact, I had the Flyers pegged for 6th in the East. But a team of this talent should never go through the types of droughts they have; they should never squander as many opportunities for winnable games as they have; and they should never have the same over and over again.
The first red flag that went up for me to think Stevens might be the cause was when he said that the team had executed their game plan after the February 23rd game... That game was another blown HOME game against an inferior opponent playing their backup goalie. You remember that one? When the Panthers scored with 3 seconds to go in the 3rd and then won it in overtime?
Briere and others have also talked about playing "their game" and making other teams make mistakes and then capitalize. But there's a fundamental flaw with their approach: This team plays its best when it forces the issue and toes the line, even if at times it crosses the line.
The Flyers need to force the issue, right from the drop of the puck. They don't need to bait teams into mistakes, they need to force teams into mistakes. And I believe Stevens isn't coaching them to do that. The Flyers need to play with a furious forecheck and be more aggressive further on the periphery of the zone rather than concentrate on "protecting home plate" as Stevens has called it.
Urgency isn't just a matter of mindset that you can flick a switch internally. You need to do things on the ice. Either Stevens doesn't preach that to his team, or his message isn't getting through. But both explanations fall on the coach.
In his defense, Stevens has done a good job of keeping the team together and the locker room in order. He has kept the team thinking positive and challenged them to pick it up.
But when the same problems happen as often as they have this year for this group, something isn't getting across to the players to have them prepared and playing more consistently. Or if it is the wrong message is being sent.
I'm not saying Stevens should go, but he could. Not in the style of Claude Julien down the stretch run, but if this team should miss the post-season, it is a distinct possibility. Remember--he only got a one-year extension in December.
What I am saying is that some changes are needed, in philosophy... This team needs to be coached to play with an edge. Downie and Cote should never be benched on the same night, because some spark is needed.
Before you look at Biron who hasn't been a #1 before but has the capability, before you look at Briere's -24 when over 30 of his points have come on the power play, before you look at the injuries that has plagued this team, look at the way this team plays night in night out and how they are preparing for the game and the gameplan once they take the ice. And ask: does the man behind the bench have the right philosophy to get the most out of this team?
Mike Mreczko is the Flyers reporter for Sports Radio 950 in Philadelphia. Send questions or comments to [email][email protected]