Tonight, John Stevens will be in charge behind an NHL bench for the first time since Dec. 3, 2009, before he was fired in Philadelphia. [Thanks to Kevin Kurz for the correction.] In parts of four seasons as Flyers coach, Stevens went 120-109-34. Stevens is not in an unfamiliar spot tonight, taking over for Terry Murray as the Kings’ interim coach. Eight games into the 2006-07 season, with the Flyers off to a 1-6-1 start, coach Ken Hitchcock was fired and Stevens was hired. In his first game — Oct. 26, 2009 — the Flyers beat the Atlanta Thrashers 3-2 in a shootout. Tonight, Stevens gets a second “first game,’’ and after today’s morning skate, he talked about taking over and about the emotions of the previous 24 hours.
STEVENS: “It was a difficult day yesterday for everybody, taken by surprise and then a quick turnaround, trying to get ready for Boston here. I’m not going to lie to you. It’s not an easy thing to go through, certainly not for us. I think we all have to take some responsibility for the situation that we’re in, and that goes for Jamie (Kompon) and I as well. There’s big expectations on this team. The ironic thing is, that’s because of the great job that Terry did here. That’s why we’re considered a team that could do damage in the West, because of the respect that he brought here during his time here. Dean met with the players last night, to explain what was going on, and we met as a staff with the players today, just to try to tackle a few things. We’re going to meet tonight again and revisit some issues. Specifically, I don’t think there’s a whole lot that we can get through right now, and I don’t know that there’s a whole lot we need to get through right now. It’s about coming together as a team, playing hard for each other and depending on some of those fundamentals that Terry put in place during his time here.’’
Question: In terms of on the ice, what can be done to change things?
STEVENS: “It’s no secret. The elephant in the room here is that we’re not scoring enough. We told the players, `We didn’t say you can’t score, we said you’re not scoring.’ What we’d like to see from our team tonight is to not put ourselves in a situation where we’re beating ourselves, and allow our team game to get us going, by getting pucks deep, by allowing the puck to do the work for us and by getting pucks to the net. We would like to see the team really dig in on the north side of the red line. That’s something that we’re really going to challenge the guys to do tonight. Again, I’m not going to use the term, `We can’t score.’ We’re not scoring, and we need to. I think we all need to take responsibility for that, and I think we’ve got to dig in on the north side of the red light.’’
Question: You’ve been through this before, taking over a team during a season. What can you do, as a coach, to help the team get through the emotions of today?
STEVENS: “It was a pretty somber mood here today. I think Terry has an enormous amount of respect from every guy in that locker room, and certainly everybody affiliated with the team. So it’s not surprising that there’s a very somber mood over the team. We felt it was very important to skate as a group today, and just kind of work through it. It’s a process you have to go through. There’s no quick fix for it. There’s no lightning in a bottle. We talk about the process all the time, but it’s very important that we work through the process, because of what just transpired.’’
Question: Will you stay with the same lineup you practiced with yesterday?
STEVENS: “To be honest with you, it’s been such a tight turn. We found out late yesterday afternoon, what was going on, and we were preparing for Boston like we always do. What we’ve decided to do is put everybody in warmup, everybody that’s available and not injured, and we’re going to decide on our lineup after warmup. In all likelihood, I wouldn’t expect to see wholesale changes.’’
Question: Do you feel more prepared now than when you took over (as interim coach) in Philadelphia?
STEVENS: “I don’t think there’s any question about that. When you haven’t been a coach in the National Hockey League, and when we talk about that process, that was a difficult thing for a guy who had never been a coach in the National Hockey League. Certainly I was confident in my abilities to coach at that level, but the schedule is different, the matchups are different, you don’t know the league that well, travel. There’s a lot that goes into it, but having been in the league now for a while, as a head coach and now as an assistant coach, and having had a chance to see the Eastern and Western Conferences, I think I’m a much better coach today than I was then, and hopefully I’m a better coach tomorrow than I am today.’’
Question: In some ways, is it better to go through this on the road, with the entire group together?
STEVENS: “I don’t know. That’s a good question. I’m not sure I know the answer to that. It is good that we’re in a confined space and that we’re forced to be together, probably more than we would be at home. But I think if this happened at home, we would try to find a way to spend a lot of time together anyway. But certainly being on the road, I guess it helps a little bit, because you travel together and you’re forced to have meals together and spend time together. I can honestly say I’m not sure there’s ever a good time to do this.’’
Question: When you talk about putting everyone in warmups, is that also about team unity, having the whole group together on the ice?
STEVENS: “These are dark days in the game, certainly for me. There have been a couple of these days for me, three including the one with myself. They’re probably the days I hate the most, but in hockey, the one thing you can always lean on is the group, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do, keeping everybody involved as much as possible.’’