“It is what it is. We can’t do anything about it. It’s sad what’s happened to him. All we can do at this point is hope that his life gets back to normal - and if it does, I’m sure he’ll deal with the hockey part after that. First and foremost, you just hope his regular lifestyle can get back to normal.”
Coach Peter Laviolette’s primary challenge has been trying to make all the new pieces fit into some cohesive whole and according to Briere, it’s working.
“There’s been a lot of changes and obviously, we don’t have the experience that we had last year when we had Richards and Carter and Leino and even (Darrell) Powe and (Dan) Carcillo,” continued Briere. “But I think we brought something else that was maybe lacking a little bit. We brought some youth and some exuberance and guys that have something to prove - emotionally and passionately. That’s why we had such a good start. We have so many rookies, so we’re all going to through some ups and downs and some bumps in the season, but at this point, I’m hoping it makes us better for down the line.”
Because in the East, is there really a dominant team? The Penguins have fared well, despite Sidney Crosby’s extended absence. The Boston Bruins have some their moments of excellence and moments of mediocrity. The most consistent team, night in and night out, is the New York Rangers, another team that is a product of chemistry where everyone plays coach John Tortorella’s system extremely well. The Rangers don’t give up much and they rely on goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. They also own the Flyers, having won every meeting this season, so that is not a match-up that Philadelphia would want early.
“It’s definitely up for grabs,” said Briere. “There are lots of teams, right there, that have the tools to go all the way. I think all these teams need something to go right - to get the right bounces, for things to fall into place. It seems that every team has something that they’re not completely happy with. But I like our chances. I think we’re a tougher team to play against. I think we’re built more for the playoffs than for the regular season, but we’ll see when it matters most.”
THE JAGR EXPERIMENT - Pavel Kubina, a Stanley Cup winner in 2004 and a player that, when he’s on his game, can be an important contributor on defence, was likely Philadelphia’s most important February pickup. Kubina says the adjustment to the Flyers wasn’t all that complicated, and it was made easier by the presence of a couple of Czech countrymen on the roster – the ageless Jagr and youngster Voracek, who came over from Columbus in the Carter trade.
Jagr has played some this year with Giroux this and some with Briere. Nobody in Philadelphia knew too much about Jagr before they scooped him up on the opening day of free agency, pilfering him from the Penguins, who thought they had him coming their way. Potentially, Philadelphia could play Pittsburgh in the opening round and if they do, Jagr will surely be a focus of attention.
Kubina is looking forward to the opportunity, noting that he has only had a chance to play 13 playoff games since Tampa won the Cup - five the year after the championship, when they exited in the first round, and then eight more last year, when they upset the Penguins in the opening round and then fell to the Bruins in the second round.
“It’s fun to get back and especially to play for the Flyers,” said Kubina. “It’s one of the best organizations in the league, and always a top team in the league, and an honour for me to put a Flyers’ jersey on.
“It’s a fun group, a lot of young guys, and I knew a few guys from before, so that makes it a lot easier for me.”
“Same guy,” said Kubina. “It’s hard to play against him. I played two games against him this year (for Tampa). It’s unbelievable. He just turned 40. It’s unbelievable the stuff he does, on the ice and off the ice. What I like about him a lot, he’s a great example for the young guys. There are 10 guys around here, 20 or 22 or 23 years old and they can grow up by watching a guy like that. It’s a great fit.