(Voorhees, NJ, January 12) – With 21 assists but no goals to his name, the Flyers' coaching staff had a very simple message for defenseman Joni Pitkanen recently.
Shoot the puck.
"Joni is a guy who likes to play the game on the move and he moves so well laterally that at times he gets himself out of shooting position. We just feel that every time he comes off the wall or into the middle of the ice he gets himself in a lot better position to score," said John Stevens. "He does have a good shot and we've encouraged him to do that. We'd love to see him put more pucks in the net."
Pitkanen did just that on Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens, scoring his first goal of the season and hitting the post during a power play later in the game. Hopefully for the third-year NHL defenseman, the mental block of not scoring is now a thing of the past.
"Absolutely it was on my mind. I had a lot of chances and I knew it was coming someday," he said.
Pitkanen said that the focus lately from the Flyers' coaches has been not just shooting the puck but being more aggressive. He has played some of his strongest games of the season in the last week and it finally paid off for him on the scoreboard on Thursday.
"I think he looked pretty excited. It's been a long time coming and you expect Joni to score more than he has, although he's put up points in assists, he hasn't scored at the rate we had hoped," said Stevens.
The Flyers' head coach also attributed that success to another player who is back in the lineup.
"He and Peter [Forsberg] have had chemistry before and he reads off of Peter. Peter looked like he was excited to play and gave Joni energy by the fact he was back. Hopefully that's a sign of things to come," said Stevens.
Pitkanen's friend and mentor, Sami Kapanen, said the following:
"He's priding himself on being an offensive defenseman and I think he's been putting so much pressure on himself to put up some goals on the board even though he's been piling up all the assists. I think it's been getting to the point that he wasn't looking to shoot the puck, he was looking to make other plays," said Kapanen.
"What I have seen in the last couple games, I think he's been taking the puck to the net a little more and he's been shooting it a little more and jumping up on plays. It seems like he's been gaining confidence and everybody is a better player when they have confidence. That's what I'm seeing right now."
Leighton Practices with Flyers
Goaltender Michael Leighton, picked up on waivers from Nashville by Philadelphia on Thursday, made his first appearance with the team during practice at the Virtua Health Flyers Skate Zone.
Leighton is excited for the change in scenery, he said.
"I'm looking for the future, and for now. In Nashville, I was there for five weeks and didn't get a chance to play, and here I'm hoping to maybe go down to the Phantoms and play a couple games on conditioning and get back into game shape and hopefully get into a game or two here and see how it goes," he said. "Next year, you never know what's going to happen. I just want to be put in a good position.
The fourth-year pro will most likely be kept on the Flyers roster for the rest of the season to avoid exposing him to waivers again. Therefore, Philadelphia has three goalies on the roster and in practice.
"Whoever is playing the next day wants to feel good in practice, and it's hard to do that rotating three goalies. I definitely feel for them and I'm just the third guy right now, so I'll give them the net as much as they want and just get in when I can, stay after practice and work hard," said Leighton.
FLYERS NOTES Stevens said that Antero Niittymaki will start in net against Pittsburgh on Saturday. … Mike Richards is doubtful for the game Saturday, while Geoff Sanderson remains out. Richards practiced with the team on Thursday, and is closer to returning than Sanderson, who did not practice.