IT HAS come to this: that a good effort, one point out of two, a shootout loss at home to the Pittsburgh Penguins, is being viewed as a step in the right direction for the Flyers. Such is their current state. Such is their fragility.
The last thing they need now is a trade.
They have already bounced their coach, John Stevens, only to see things get worse. They have already seen their captain, Mike Richards, call them out after getting thumped Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, saying they were "not playing with enough heart." They have already had enough turmoil in this month of hell. (Definition of hell: 3-11-1.)
They do not need to trade a spare part on the roster for a different spare part just to get everybody's attention - because that has already been accomplished with the arrival of new coach Peter Laviolette. They certainly do not need to sacrifice an important player, to cut off a significant appendage, just to wake everybody up.
Everyone knows this is a better team than it has shown in the last month. Now is the time to give the roster a chance to show it. The coach has hinted at a locker room that isn't tight enough and, well, fine. The truth is that the talent is there - or has everyone forgotten that this team was once 12-5-1? The truth also is that whatever the fissures, the only real way to fuse them is through the heat of this kind of situation.
Because the Flyers have had lousy months before and pulled out of it. In 2007-08, they had a Februaryish stretch where they went 10 games without a win and won only three games out of 15 - and that team went to the Stanley Cup semifinals. Last year, they started out with a stretch where they won only four of their first 13 games and pulled it together. These streaks have become the trademark that this core group of young players has not yet been able to outgrow. These streaks, when they began again this season, are the reason Stevens was fired.
This time, it's three wins in 15 games between Nov. 18 and last night. The Stevens firing makes this one seem worse but the numbers say we have all been here before.
Asked last night to remember back to the previous lousy months, Richards said: "I don't know if this one is tougher. It's hard to explain because you don't know where everyone is at. But when and if we come out of this, I think it's going to get us more momentum and bring us closer together. It will kind of make our team. Hopefully, we can carry success through it."
Richards comes across as a skeptic right now, which isn't a bad thing. He said more than once after last night's game that he will be very interested to see how the team plays tomorrow against the Rangers, if it can sustain the effort for another game. Last year, Richards took some heat as the team captain for not being critical enough of his teammates' seeming lack of urgency. So this is different.
It all just needs some time now. The Flyers' place in the standings, while stunning - they're three points out of a playoff spot - is not irretrievable in any sense. There is clearly some urgency to get going, but there is time. And they have played two pretty good games out of the last three, sandwiched between Tuesday's abomination against the Penguins.
They need to build here. They need to finish digesting Laviolette's more aggressive system. They do not need to be presented with another convulsion, not right now.
The Stevens firing was very quick - really too quick, but such is the NHL of this millennium, where one coach (Buffalo's Lindy Ruff) has had his job for 12 years and the other 29 teams in that time span have employed 150 coaches, give or take.
Anyway, a big trade piggybacked upon the quick coaching change would just create a sense of organizational panic. That isn't what they need. The most important words spoken last night were by Laviolette. Asked if Richards' not-enough-heart comments had an effect on last night's effort, the coach said, "I think so."
Well, they need to be sure. That's going to take a little more time.
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