(Washington, D.C., January 8) – Finally on the last stop of their eight-city tour that has been the current road trip, the Philadelphia Flyers practiced on Monday afternoon in Washington with the hopes of rebounding from a 6-1 loss to Ottawa on Sunday. They will play the Capitals on Tuesday night (7:00 p.m., CW-57, 610 WIP).
Prior to practice, the coaching staff met with the veterans regarding the direction of the team for the remaining 40 games of the regular season.
"We just kind of addressed the overall mentality of the team and how we need to prepare for every game and things we need to do on the ice," said Mike Knuble. "Defensive coverage is one of our main focuses that we've got to be much better at. The last couple of games against the Rangers and Ottawa, their top lines kind of had their way and did whatever they wanted to in our defensive zone. We really didn't have a way to stop it."
Knuble stressed that in the meeting, the players were encouraged to speak about whatever was on their minds.
"Guys are upset. It's not like we're kicking over the water cooler or anything, it was a civilized meeting. But, we are free to say what we want to say. If you have problems with the system, the coaching staff or anything we''re free to say it," he said.
"I think it was important to sit down and have a real heart-to-heart with our leaders and let them know how we felt and get some real solid input from them," added John Stevens. "And the end of the day, they are going to be responsible for the direction of our team and the message in the locker room. We had that meeting today and I thought it was very productive."
One veteran not in the meeting was captain Peter Forsberg, who was back in Philadelphia on Monday. Forsberg's status is up in the air for Tuesday night against the Capitals. The Flyers have struggled when Forsberg doesn't play, but that cannot be an excuse moving forward, said Knuble.
"I think it would benefit us the most if we went into the games mentally without him in the lineup. If he shows up, it's a bonus, and then hopefully it will be a great day. But, we can still have a lot of good days without him," he said. "We haven't won a game without him, and that in itself is an absolute frustration to a lot of us. Granted, he's a great player, but we have 17 other guys that can win a game."
"We can't sit around and wait and just keep hoping that [Forsberg] is going to play," said Stevens. "Obviously if he's healthy to play we'll welcome him back with open arms, but right now we have to prepare without him. That was one of the things we told our older players today, is that we think they're good enough to win hockey games. I think if we have strong efforts from the group we met with today, that they can lead the way for the rest of our team."
Philadelphia spent the majority of practice working on playing in their own defensive zone, something the players feel they have not done too well during the team's three-game losing streak.
"There are a lot of teams out there that aren't that good but are really, really sound positionally and they win games," said Derian Hatcher. "When you're sound positionally, everything has to come through you. That would be the first thing I would change, and that's what we talked about."
Philadelphia appeared to be turning things around on the trip, winning three of the first four games. However, they will need a win on Tuesday night to come out of the trip with a .500 mark with four wins and four losses.
"We keep thinking that it's got to get better at some point and it just seems to be more of the same. That's the most frustrating part," said Knuble. "In any profession you want to see progress, and we can't seem to make any progress. You try and narrow it down as to what the problem is and you go from thing to thing, like, is it a forechecking system? Is it off-ice preparation? Is it preparation for the games? You keep searching for that answer. We still are.
"Nobody in the room is going to quit on the year. We all want to see some progress. Not little spurts like three games here and there, but a general upward trend."
"Yesterday on the plane seven or eight of us were talking. [Robert] Esche brought up that we have 40 games left, and we can't go through another 40 games like we're going right now," he said. "We're at that realization; we just have to find ways to turn it around."