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Laviolette changing on the fly

by John Kreiser
If you've ever come into the middle of a movie and tried to catch up on the plot, you'll likely understand Peter Laviolette's predicament when he took over as coach of the Philadelphia Flyers in early December.

The Flyers fired John Stevens after a 3-0 loss to Vancouver on Dec. 3 and gave the job to Laviolette, who won the Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006 but was let go after the ‘Canes missed the playoffs in the next two seasons and got off to a slow start in 2008-09.

The marriage didn't get off to a great start. The Flyers lost 8-2 to Washington in Laviolette's debut and went 2-7-1 in their first 10 games.

"Any time you take over something in midstream, it's a little overwhelming," he said. "You're walking into a bunch of new faces -- management, players and staff. You want to come in and have an impact right away, and that didn't happen -- we struggled a little bit right from the beginning. We got all the way down to 14th place in the conference."

Perhaps the hardest part for Laviolette was trying to install his system without a training camp -- or even a lot of practice time.

"I think when you come in midseason, there's a lot of things that you need to do -- and there's not a lot of practice time and not a lot of time to get things done," he said. "When I came in here, we had eight games in 13 days; when we did practice, the guys probably should have had a day off -- but you're trying to get things in place."

Things have gone better since the slow start, with the Flyers climbing back into the top eight in the Eastern Conference -- though they've dropped six of their last seven, including Thursday night's 6-4 loss to the New York Islanders, they're sixth entering a key game Friday night at home against Montreal.

Despite the lack of practice time -- and season-long instability in goal -- Laviolette said his players are getting the hang of what he wants them to do and how he expects them to play.

"Over time, the guys began to understand how we were playing, the identity we were looking for," he said. "We started to play with some conviction. We got all the way up to fifth place, then we stumbled a little bit in the last couple of weeks.

"We've got to get back to the way we played against the Devils (a 5-1 home win on Sunday night), finish strong down the stretch and lock up fifth or sixth place."

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