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October 27, 2005 - Hitchcock wants more leadership, better results

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Hitchcock wants more leadership, better results
Thursday, October 27, 2005

Courier-Post Staff

When he saw Keith Primeau lying prone on the ice in front of the Flyers net Tuesday night, the victim of an elbow to the jaw, Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock wondered if his captain might not get up.

"Whenever I see Keith go down with an upper body hit I'm always concerned because of his experience with concussions," Hitchcock said. "To be honest with you, he actually played harder after he got back up. He played nasty and hard."

That is something Hitchcock wants from his entire team and it was clear Wednesday he doesn't feel he's getting it. With three games in the next four nights, beginning with tonight's home game against the improved Florida Panthers, Hitchcock gave most of his players the day off Wednesday.

But he did not let them off the hook.

The coach and the captain had a lengthy meeting in the coach's office and when Primeau emerged, he bobbed and weaved around the nature of the discussion.

"It was pointed and direct," Primeau said. "He didn't really include anybody else. The conversation revolved around my role and my responsibility. It was directed at me. He was not questioning my work or my ethic, but challenging me."

Through seven games, Primeau has one goal and four assists and is averaging just less than 16 minutes of ice time, which is less than that of centers Peter Forsberg (18:25), Michal Handzus (17:58) and Mike Richards (16:31).

So, was Hitchcock challenging Primeau's ability to lead?

"Granted, it's early in the season, but there's a level of play you have to get to and sustain consistently if you're going to be a championship team in this league," Primeau said. "That was his message to me."

Although the Flyers are 4-2-1 and just two points off the pace-setting New York Rangers in the Atlantic Division, Hitchcock clearly expects more from his players than what he was given Tuesday night when the Flyers blew a one-goal lead after two periods.

The Flyers were whistled for 11 penalties and spent more than 19 minutes of the game short-handed, but it was the lost battles along the boards and for loose pucks that angered Hitchcock the most.

"We played below the bar, that's the problem," Hitchcock said. "We got outcompeted and that doesn't make anybody around here very happy."

Hitchcock disagrees with the assertion that the Canadiens are simply a faster team than the Flyers and that's why they beat them to loose pucks Tuesday night. He also believes the Flyers are just as suited to play 5-on-4 and 4-on-5 as any other team in the league.

Through Wednesday the Flyers were ranked 21st in the NHL in power-play percentage (14.5) and 24th in penalty killing (79.1).

"I don't agree with that at all," Hitchcock said of the Flyers' overall lack of team speed. "To me, skating speed is the most overrated aspect of the game. Montreal looks quick because they really move the puck well. The puck moves a lot faster than people skate."

Hitchcock said the Flyers' biggest problem has been overpursuing on the forecheck and getting beaten up the ice on outlet passes from opposing defensemen. He said if his players focus less on the officiating and more on playing the game properly, they'll see the difference in the standings.

"I really believe the team that pays the least attention to the penalties will be better off in the long run," he said. "It becomes too big a topic and takes away the focus of competing properly."