(Voorhees, NJ) – When the players arrived for practice Monday morning at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone
, they immediately noticed a change. Every seat in the dressing room had been moved to a different location, including players that had been in their particular stalls for years.
It’s an indication that at this point, John Stevens will try anything to right the ship in time for the final nine games of the regular season. He told equipment manager Derek Settlemyre to rearrange the lockers after the team’s flight from Pittsburgh landed in Philadelphia on Sunday evening.
The Flyers play the first of three straight home games on Tuesday night against Atlanta
(7:00 p.m., Versus).
“We came to the rink this morning and it was switched up. Everybody smiled and it was just a good mix up,” said Jason Smith. “We look at it as a fresh start today, and we’re looking forward to tomorrow.”
“Instead of coming in and just sitting where you sit, you’re sitting beside somebody new and you might have a different conversation you might normally have,” explained Stevens. “I thought we got on the ice here today and the guys had good life. The enthusiasm was great and we had a great practice.”
Stevens has been trying to loosen up the team in the preceding days, including last week when the group huddled at center ice before practice and each player had to get in the middle of the circle and describe the most memorable goal in their career.
“It’s good humor, good fun, and you learn a little more about each other,” said the coach. “It makes you interact and communicate a little better. It’s certainly not rocket science, but we just changed the atmosphere here a little bit today. Yesterday is over and we’ll move on to tomorrow.”
One player on the team, Sami Kapanen, spoke up during the second intermission of the 7-1 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday. The 34-year-old winger wanted to make clear that no one in the locker room should let an opportunity of making the NHL playoffs pass them by – young players or veterans alike.
The Flyers sit in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, but lead the Buffalo Sabres by a single point.
“I waited my chance for seven years in Carolina, and finally got a chance to play in the Finals and ended up losing. For most players, that’s once in a lifetime,” said Kapanen, who was a member of the Hurricanes team that fell to the Detroit Red Wings in 2002. “I’ve been working on it ever since then and I thought coming to Philly I’d get another shot to play in the Finals, and it hasn’t happened yet, even though throughout the years we had some outstanding teams.
“You can’t take it for granted as a younger player. You don’t know when it’s going to happen. Any time you’ve got a chance to get in the playoffs, you have to make the best out of it. I tried to tell the guys that we’ve shown some signs throughout the season that we can compete with any of the teams in the league; we just have to get together and get into it. I think it needed to be said, so hopefully we’ll bounce back and make the best out of it right now.”
Mike Richards, in his third year in the league, knows that the time is now to turn it around.
“We’ve been on great stretches and we’ve been on losing stretches,” he said. “Right now, we know it’s time to come together as a team and put together a good stretch. We know that we can do it, we just have to find it.”
One positive sign is that despite just five wins in the last 21 games, the team has not pointed any fingers and remains a close-knit squad, according to Stevens.
“I think we’re all concerned with the situation that we’re in, but I haven’t seen any finger pointing at anybody,” he said. “I’ve actually seen more guys step up and want to take more responsibility.
“This is a group that cares deeply, but sometimes when you care so much you get a little bit tense and don’t play as good as you normally can. This team seems to lack energy at times, but I thought we had good energy today and I think we just need to go out and play.”
Smith was asked if the Flyers have the talent level to make the playoffs.
“Absolutely. As a group, we know that there’s guys in this room that can play better than we have,” said the captain.
“We’re going to get into the playoffs and we’re going to be a team that’s going to be a hard team to play against.”
Joffrey Lupul did not skate but will play in the game tomorrow. Richards left the ice early as well, but will also be in the lineup. … Antero Niittymaki will start in net on Tuesday.