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Atlantic: Clarke addresses Flyers' faceoff deficiency

by Adam Kimelman /
There are a number of reasons for the Philadelphia Flyers' slow start this season, but it's easy to circle 1 of them. Actually, the problem already is in the circle -- the faceoff circle, to be exact.

Through Sunday, the Flyers had won just 46.5 percent of their faceoffs, the fourth-worst mark in the League. With 3 of the same 4 centers back from last season -- Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Daniel Briere -- they're down from 49.0 percent last season.

Carter, who has taken a team-high 270 draws, is the biggest culprit, winning just 43 percent, down from 47.5 last season. Briere also has plummeted, from 50.5 percent last season to 45.6 this season.


"Players in Stevens’ doghouse have not done well so far..."


"The Flyers should have been solid right off the bat..."

Flyers coach John Stevens was blunt in his assessment: "We've been awful."

In that regard, he called in a special lecturer to help his club's centers -- Hall of Fame center Bob Clarke, now a senior vice president for the team. Clarke preached how competitiveness in the faceoff circle would lead to competitiveness in all other areas.

"It's a competitive situation," he told reporters. "It's a puck battle. There is skill involved, but I think it's an attitude more than anything. ... Being faceoff-ready is being game-ready.

"If you're going to win 60, 70 percent of your faceoffs, you have to be real competitive, so you're probably going to be competitive in all other areas, too. I think if you win the majority of your faceoffs, you're probably on the attack, you're going to get more scoring chances."

He also said winning faceoffs was as much a mental challenge as a physical one.

"I don't think there's anything that anybody can do physically to help a centerman take a faceoff," Clarke said. "But I do think there is a preparation and a plan that only a centerman can put in order before they go to the faceoff.

"It's always been my feeling if you're just waiting to see what's going to happen, the best you're going to be is average. We just talked about it."

The players were receptive to Clarke's teachings.

"Clarke was telling us that a lot of it is a mindset," Briere said. "Going into the circle, it's being prepared. It's not always easy, especially when you're facing the same guy over and over again. Sometimes there are nights when it's not working, you have to switch it up, try to be creative. But mostly it's a mindset -- you have to go into that circle wanting to win that faceoff more than the guy you're facing."

"He was a great player, always a good faceoff man," Carter said. "We didn't talk too much, just (saw) different setups on how you might try to confuse the other team.  It always helps to listen to a guy like that."

Clarke also gave some -- shall we say -- special tips gathered from his 15 NHL seasons.

"He told us if the other guy gets too low, don't be afraid to get in there and let him know not to get low again," said Glen Metropolit, who leads the Flyers at 52.2 percent.

When asked how to counteract an opponent getting too low, Metropolit smiled and said, "You can get pretty aggressive."

Championship coaches -- Bob Clarke isn't the only franchise hero to step out of the executive board room and onto the ice.

Ken Morrow, the Islanders' director of pro scouting and 4-time Stanley Cup champion defenseman, spent last week tutoring the Isles' young defense corps.

Of the team's 6 healthy defensemen -- Mark Streit, Andy Sutton, Bruno Gervais, Chris Campoli, Brett Skinner and Thomas Pock -- only Streit and Sutton have played more than 200 NHL games.

Mad Dog barks -- John Madden isn't the type to get all emotional about ... well, anything really. But the Devils' recent trip to Toronto caused Madden to share a moment with New York Post writer Mark Everson. Madden, who grew up in Barrie, Ontario, was a Maple Leafs fan, and his favorite player was Doug Gilmour.

During Madden's first training camp with the Devils, in 1997, he encountered Gilmour, then a teammate, at the locker room coffee pot. An awestruck Madden couldn't get out a word.

"He was pouring himself a coffee and I was just waiting," Madden told Everson. "He looked at me and said, 'Do you want a cup? Here, take this one.' You wouldn't believe how many phone calls I made back home to tell my friends and my family."

Gilmour now works as an assistant coach for the Leafs' American Hockey League affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.

Avoiding disaster -- As if the injury bug hasn't bitten the Devils hard enough this season, they narrowly missed losing another player Sunday night.

Defenseman Mike Mottau was sitting on the Devils' bench midway through the first period when he was hit in the right eye by a puck deflected onto the bench by teammate Mike Rupp. Mottau fell backward off the bench and suffered a cut that needed 5 stitches to close. After getting stitched up, though, Mottau returned to the bench before the period ended.

"I saw the play," Mottau told reporters. "I was looking from the bench through the glass at the rim and then the puck came and (Colin White) ducked. I saw it at the last second, but it was bang, bang."

The Devils already are missing goaltender Martin Brodeur (torn biceps tendon); centers Brian Rolston (high ankle sprain) and Bobby Holik (broken finger); defensemen Paul Martin (upper-body injury) and Andy Greene (broken hand), and Matt Halischuk, one of the team's top prospects, injured his knee in a minor-league game.

New position for Crosby -- At a Penguins practice early last week, there was a strange sight -- Sidney Crosby playing goal.

OK, so it was soccer practice.

Still have questions? With a 4-day break between games following a game in St. Louis Nov. 1 and a visit last Thursday by the Oilers, most of the players spent the day off the ice working on conditioning and agility drills.

The drills were being held on an indoor soccer field, which led to a soccer game just sort of breaking out.

"It just kind of happened," center Jordan Staal told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Someone said, 'Bring out the soccer ball,' and we started playing."

Crosby and Matt Cooke played goal for their respective teams.

News and notes -- The Flyers' Daniel Briere returned a week earlier than expected after having surgery Oct. 25 to repair tears in his abdominal muscles. He was expected to miss up to a month, but had the team's only goal last Saturday night against the Lightning. ... Before getting hurt last Saturday, Devils goalie Martin Brodeur had dressed for 1,114 of the team's 1,126 regular-season games since his rookie season, 1993-94. In the 12 games Brodeur had missed, the team went 2-6-4. That record now stands at 3-9-4 in 16 games. ... reported Flyers Senior Vice President Bob Clarke accompanied the team on last Thursday's trip to Ottawa, rather than GM Paul Holmgren, with the thought being Holmgren stayed near Philadelphia to negotiate with Brendan Shanahan's agent, Rick Curran, who is based in the Philadelphia suburbs. Friday's trade of defenseman Steve Eminger and forward Steve Downie to the Lightning for defenseman Matt Carle gave the Flyers the necessary room to add one more professional contract. Teams can have a maximum of 50 signed players; the Flyers now have 49. ... The Devils' loss Saturday in Detroit extended their losing streak in Hockeytown to 8 games dating back 12 years, to Nov. 6, 1996. ... Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro and Penguins captain Sidney Crosby were among the NHL players interviewed for the movie "Pond Hockey," which currently is being screened in select cities across the U.S. Upcoming events include shows in Boston on Nov. 12; New York City on Nov. 14; Washington D.C. on Nov. 17; and Ann Arbor, Mich., on Nov. 19. For more information, go to ... Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney, who had foot surgery during the summer and hasn't played this season, skated for the first time last Wednesday. Whitney told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he remains on track to make his season debut in late December or early January. "Maybe it will be sooner," said Whitney, "but you don't want to get your hopes up and have that not be the case."

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