In a roundabout way, new general manager Chuck Fletcher put the Flyers' overall team defense on high alert in a conference call with reporters Monday night.
He talked about the need for improving their sad-sack goals-against average (3.52, 28th in the NHL), but said he would first look for “in-house solutions.”
Maybe he thinks the assistant coach he hired Tuesday, Rick Wilson -- who will handle the defense -- will upgrade things and spur improvement.
Maybe after he gets settled in, he’ll decide somebody from the Phantoms (defenseman Phil Myers?) will be an option. Or that blossoming goalie Anthony Stolarz can get on a run and solidify things.
But the clock is ticking. The Flyers (11-12-2) have, in effect, wasted nearly one-third of the season. Fletcher will be watching the players closely in the coming weeks before making an evaluation and, in all probability, exploring the trade market.
Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who has struggled mightily (11 points, minus-15 rating), is among the players who might no longer be untouchable under Fletcher’s watch.
“It’s not the ideal situation. It’s not a normal situation when you have a GM coming in midway through the season,” Gostisbehere conceded after practice Tuesday in Voorhees.
Travis Sanheim is a young defenseman who also figures to be under Fletcher’s microscope.
“He might know a little bit about you but doesn’t know a lot,” Sanheim said. “You want to show him what you’re all about. You have to prove yourself.”
“You want to get his trust as fast as you can,” said high-scoring captain Claude Giroux, who is not a candidate to be traded.
The Flyers, coming off Saturday’s 4-2 win in Pittsburgh, will host Columbus on Thursday.
“Anything in life, you only get one first impression, so you obviously want to be on your game,” Gostisbehere said. “Hopefully, we can string some wins.”
The players met with Fletcher before practice Tuesday, and he told them they had a “clean slate.”
“He laid out what he wants from us to do,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s simple. It’s win. Win games. We’ve got a good team in here, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
“His message to our team was very clear, very positive,” coach Dave Hakstol said.
Stolarz said Fletcher “wants to come in and get this thing going. Get us on a nice little run here. I think now with things being a little settled, guys are going to be a little more comfortable and come to the rink and keep chipping away. It was a good start against Pittsburgh, but you can’t win one, lose one, win one, lose one. You have to keep moving forward here and get a nice little streak going.”
As for the poor goals-against numbers, Hakstol said “that’s not all on the defense. When you look at it very closely, we’ve had three or four games where we’ve been too leaky; we’ve had too many holes. I’ve been pretty happy with a lot of our defensive play, but the consistency has to get better, the completeness has to get better, and the end result has to get better in terms of the number of goals against. That’s a team issue.”