What a difference a week makes. Last week at this time, there were lots of smiling faces and a laid back atmosphere at the jam-packed SkateZone as the Flyers opened training camp. Three ugly exhibition game losses later, the team returns home facing questions about their ability to solve the same on-ice problems that ultimately led to a mediocre stretch drive and a first-round playoff loss.
The fact that the team went 0-2-1 in Detroit and London isn't of great concern in and of itself. Nor was the fact that the club managed just a single James van Riemsdyk goal over the first two games. The team elected not to hold full-fledged scrimmages early in camp, and the rust was not surprising. In addition, there were players and line combinations on the ice that will be long forgotten by the time opening night rolls around. The team's goal totals and powerplay percentage are not issues to worry about at this point.
What is concerning is the fact that there's already been an incident of the coach and GM not being on the same page. John Stevens saying his team had worked hard in the 4-0 loss to the Leafs on Thursday and Paul Holmgren saying the club was disgracefully outworked (for the record, I agree with the GM). There was muted grumbling last year that some players were a little too casual about losses; too quick to dismiss bad nights with a few mumbled cliches about needing to "pick it up" before they headed off into the night.
Just two games into the preseason, Homer has already seen fit to fire a public warning shot at his team that losses happen but it's never OK to be outworked. That message also needs to be delivered within the locker room by Mike Richards and the other team leaders.
It was also upsetting (but not surprising) to see the club continue last season's struggles with undisciplined penalties. No one minds the rough stuff, but apart from the fisticuffs, the Flyers played stupid - not tough - hockey.
Last but not least, the team failed to nail down the game with a third-period lead. That problem proved to be the club's undoing late last season and absolutely cannot carry over to this season. Defense is a teamwide responsibility, and the Flyers as a team still have to improve in their coverages and management of the puck. Stevens has already mentioned Claude Giroux (entering his first full season at center and second NHL season) as one player who needs to pay some attention to his defensive position this preseason.
With the club returning home to prepare for exhibition games against the Red Wings and Devils, the Flyers need to put in a much better week of work than they did in the week just past.
John Stevens is usually honest -- but tactful -- in his assessments of players when he's directly asked to assess their performances.
So when he said that tryout player Mark Bell has looked "just OK" in his limited viewings of the player and that a player needs an identity (scorer or grinder) on the ice, the message was clear. Bell hasn't done much of anything to stand out, nor has he shown the sort of urgency you'd expect of a player whose NHL career depends on impressing the Flyers or another team.
Barring a quick and dramatic turnaround, Bell stands little shot at earning a contract with the Flyers. He also did himself no favors by saying that a two-way contract was unacceptable to him.
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