New Flyers coach Alain Vigneault has many challenges as he attempts to mold his team into a Stanley Cup contender.
Among the biggest: Trying to get the Flyers out of their slow-starting rut.
They allowed the first goal in 50 of their 82 games this season. Worse, they fell behind by 2-0 in a staggering 32 games.
“I can tell you that’s not a secret for success,” a smiling Vigneault cracked at his introductory news conference Thursday. “See how sharp I am.”
The Flyers won just four of the 32 games in which they faced a 2-0 deficit.
Vigneault said he will have the Flyers better prepared.
“I think that will have a very solid impact,” he said. “Let’s not shy away from the players’ responsibility in this. It is their responsibility to get themselves in that mental state, that mental zone where you go out on the ice and you execute, you perform, and you compete.”
Added Vigneault: “I’m going to make sure that each and every one of our players understands his part in this. I and my staff are going to do our part as far as giving them the information they need for the upcoming opponent and what they need to do to have success as a team against that opponent.”
Vigneault said the Flyers, who finished 37-37-8, have a sound nucleus.
“Now it’s my job, and I know I can do that, to get them to be more consistent,” he said.
Vigneault, tied for 12th in NHL history in career wins (648), was asked what kind of identity he wants the Flyers to have.
“You definitely build it around the pieces that are there,” he said. “But I believe in today’s game, a high-tempo, take-our-game-to-them approach where you have the D supporting the attack, D jumping up in the play, forwards making the right decision with the puck. When the other team has the gap and there’s no space to make a play, there is one play. That’s to get it behind them. That’s high percentage, and it doesn’t hurt your team. I’m going to make sure our team understands the details of the game that are going to permit them to win.”
Vigneault said that he and general manager Chuck Fletcher have talked “at length” and that “we feel we’ve got a good-skating, good-skilled team that can play a high-tempo, good-puck-pursuit game.”
That’s an interesting observation because if you watch the teams playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Flyers don’t come close to matching their speed and crispness.
“We need to make sure that this team has the right mind-set to use its qualities and attributes,” Vigneault said. “I’m confident we’re going to do that."
Before he coaches Team Canada in the IIHF World Championships in Slovakia next month, Vigneault plans to confer with the current assistant coaches. Some are expected to stay on board.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that the coaching staff that is here at this time is very solid and very competent, so I do want to take the time to talk to those guys, hopefully in the next week before I leave for Europe,” Vigneault said. “Chuck and I will circle back and figure out what’s best for this group.”
As far as meeting with his players, that won’t happen for a while, but Vigneault plans to phone several and open a line of communication. He already has done that with captain Claude Giroux.
“It was more me reaching out to him to introduce myself,” said Vigneault, who plans to talk with the conditioning staff to make sure the players left with their personal fitness programs for the summer. “Everything I’ve heard about him is this passion to win. Now, I just have to channel that energy in the right direction.
"It was more about me introducing myself and maybe trying to convince him to come and play for Team Canada. Not putting any pressure on him. Claude’s a smart young man, and he’s going to do what’s best for himself right now.”
Giroux’s wife, Ryanne, is expecting their first child in August, and after a long season, he might choose to spend time at home instead of playing in Slovakia.