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Flyers players accept blame for Stevens' dismissal

by Dan Rosen /
VOORHEES, N.J. -- Blair Betts won't be in Philadelphia's lineup tonight due to a shoulder injury, but no one in the Flyers' dressing room has a better or more recent perspective on what it's like to have a stranger come in midseason and take over behind the bench.
Betts was in New York last season when the Rangers changed coaches in February, going from Tom Renney to John Tortorella. Now he's with the Flyers, who changed coaches Friday, dismissing John Stevens in favor of Peter Laviolette.

"There are going to be a lot of nervous guys in here for a few days," Betts told

Maybe the nerves will shake some goals and wins out of these grounded Flyers.

Philadelphia GM Paul Holmgren made what he called one of the hardest decisions of his career on Friday because his team was falling into the abyss. The Flyers have lost three straight and six of their last seven games. They haven't scored in the last eight periods.

They start the Laviolette era Saturday night against Washington at Wachovia Center sitting fourth in the Atlantic Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference with 27 points. This, remember, is a team built to contend for the Stanley Cup this season.

"I just think we need a kick in the butt," Flyers forward Arron Asham said.

Stevens was the fall guy because as the old saying goes, you can't get rid of the entire team. The Flyers, though, were in full accountability mode following their morning skate at their South Jersey practice facility.

They are taking the blame.

"It's a punch in the gut because you know you can do better, especially with this team and the expectations and games we have played this year where we played consistently," defenseman Chris Pronger said. "This game is about playing consistently and we haven't done that."

Saturday's skate was much different than what you would normally see the morning of a game. The Flyers were scheduled to be on the ice somewhere between 10 and 10:15, but they didn't come out of the dressing room and hit the ice until just before 10:40.

Laviolette was in the room with them, mostly answering questions from an inquisitive and confused group of players. Despite hearing rumors of Stevens' demise, they genuinely felt Holmgren wouldn't make the switch, at least not yet.

"It was definitely sudden," Betts said. "I found out online like a lot of guys did. I was definitely more shocked this year (than last year when Renney got fired)."

On the ice, the Flyers went through some hard drills and the forward lines looked very different than how they did Friday when Stevens ran his last practice. The top three lines were completely re-shuffled.

Still, Laviolette said he will slowly implement his system, which is expected to include an attacking, aggressive forecheck. He talked only a little bit about change Saturday morning.

"I think the last thing you want to do is unload everything on them and have them freeze," Laviolette said. "There are a lot of things that will remain the same (Saturday), but we tried to change a little bit today and we'll try to change a little bit tomorrow to try to create the identity I'm looking to create."

Still, there was no hiding how terribly odd the morning was for the Flyers.

"There is no question it's an awkward day," Laviolette said. "It's awkward for everybody, so the best thing to do is go out and work, go out and sweat, put a smile on your face and go play and play hockey. Basically along with the messages of change you are trying to make, you want the players to play first and foremost. If we're not working and we're not skating it's going to be difficult to execute and implement anything."

Laviolette is basically a complete stranger to the Flyers. Asham is the only player who has previously played for the new coach, and that was back in 2002-03 when they were together with the New York Islanders.

He at least knows what the team should expect.

"He's going to come in here and ruffle some feathers," said Asham, who put up the best numbers of his career (15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points) under Laviolette. "He's going to demand a lot. I just think we need a kick in the butt."

The loss of Stevens is being taken harder by some more than others.

For instance, James van Riemsdyk had only three months, including training camp, with his ex-boss so his history is limited even though he told that he appreciated everything Stevens did for him.

But Jeff Carter and captain Mike Richards actually appeared quite emotional talking about the loss of the coach they call "Johnny." Stevens is the only coach Carter and Richards have had since they turned pro. They won the Calder Cup with him in 2005.

"I really don't think Johnny could have done anything differently," Carter said. "It was up to us to get the job done and we haven't been doing that."

Richards said he talked to Stevens after the news broke Friday night. He didn't want to reveal the nature of the conversation.

"Johnny and I were close. We went through a lot together and we won a championship together," Richards said. "It's difficult to see him leave but I believe in Paul Holmgren and what he thinks. He's doing what is best for the team and I support him in that."

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