MONTREAL - John Stevens, speaking yesterday for the first time since he was fired by the Flyers, said he never saw the warning signs.
"When you coach you are so absorbed in what you are doing that you don't get caught up in the outside noise," Stevens said in a conference call with reporters. "I was totally submerged in what I was doing, getting ready for Washington. Was I surprised? Yes. But now that I pull back, obviously the team has stumbled lately.
"I don't think you are ever expectant when something like this happens."
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren broke the news to Stevens at 2:45 p.m. on Friday, a few hours after Stevens put the Flyers through what would be his last practice.
The Flyers were 13-11-1 when Stevens was let go, having dropped six of their last seven games, including a 3-0 loss to Vancouver last Thursday night.
They are 0-2 under new coach Peter Laviolette, after last night's 3-1 loss to the Canadiens.
Stevens, who took over after the Flyers fired Ken Hitchcock in October 2006, asked for privacy over the weekend so he could bring closure to the situation.
"Initially, your emotions are of disappointment," Stevens said. "It is more about letting people down. With the team not meeting expectations, you feel responsible. Obviously, my goal and dream was to win a Stanley Cup here and that didn't happen."
He did, however, address one of the biggest complaints about his tenure with the Flyers - which included a 120-109-34 record and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals in 2008 - that he didn't hold his players accountable for their actions.
A contemplative Stevens said that was just part of his style.
"I think it's important to go back and reflect here and I think I did hold players accountable in my own way," Stevens said. "I'm very good about being objective about myself, but that's not to say we totally failed here. We had a lot of success here."
Stevens would not comment on the Flyers' leadership core - other than to say he "loves" Mike Richards as a player and as a person, citing that it would be unfair to insert his own opinion after his job is done.
Stevens, 43, wasn't bashful about his desire to return to the NHL. As a coach, he has not worked for any organization other than the Flyers.
In fact, including his 15-year playing career and 11-year coaching tenure, Stevens spent 19 years connected to the Flyers. He played in Hershey of the American Hockey League when it was a Flyers affiliate and coached and played for the Phantoms.
"I would absolutely love to coach," Stevens said. "I loved playing the game, but coaching is something that I love to do. I would absolutely love to do it again."
Holmgren said Friday that he would speak with Stevens in a few weeks to discuss a potential job within the Flyers' organization. Stevens, whose contract is through 2011, will participate in that conversation but sounded like he was leaning toward waiting for another NHL job.
The fact that he was the second-longest tenured coach in the Eastern Conference at such a young age should help him.
"I do intend to meet with Homer in a couple weeks time and we will go from there," Stevens said. "What the plan is, I don't know."
For now, he will spend time with his wife, Stacy, watching their two sons play the game he loves - oldest, John, at St. Augustine Prep (N.J.) and Nolan with Team Comcast AAA. He said he holds no grudge toward the Flyers.
"I'm not going to lie to you. I'm going to miss it here," Stevens said. "The passion of the Philadelphia sports fan is unbelievable. I think it is important for me to pull back and continue to watch the game and be better prepared for the next time."
Boucher starts, Emery sits
Head coach Peter Laviolette started goalie Brian Boucher last night, but insisted it had nothing to do with Ray Emery's recent struggles.
Emery allowed five goals on 17 shots Saturday night in an 8-2 loss to the Capitals and his goals- against average over his last five games is a brutal 5.36.
"We've got two games coming up here," Laviolette said. "Like I said, we're going to use both goal-tenders. I don't think anybody played particularly well [on Saturday]. It's unacceptable."
Boucher gave up three goals in the loss to Montreal last night, making just 10 saves in a game that featured only 28 shots, total.
Coming into last night, Boucher had only allowed four goals in his last two starts - including just one against the league's most potent offense in Atlanta - but the Flyers couldn't manage to score a single goal in front of him in losses to the Canucks and Thrashers.
Laviolette did reveal, however, that Emery is suffering from an unspecified "nagging" injury but not one that will keep him out of the lineup. Laviolette said the injury did not impact his decision to start Boucher. Emery was seen walking around with his right hand taped after practice but said he is "fine."
Flyers left winger James van Riemsdyk called the Bell Centre the "mecca of hockey." He came to a game in Montreal as a fan 8 years ago and dreamed of playing there. He made his arena debut last night . . . Peter Laviolette swapped Claude Giroux and Danny Briere in the Flyers' lines . . . Riley Cote skated in place of the suspended Dan Carcillo, who was serving the first of his four-game ban for punching the Capitals' Matt Bradley in the face Saturday night.
For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at http://go.philly.com/frequentflyers.