Stevens wants strong homestretch

With the tension of the trade deadline and another road trip behind them, the Flyers took a day to rest yesterday and set their sights on what's left of the season.

Today, they will resume practice, then fly off to Pittsburgh for their last game of the season against Sidney Crosby and the playoff-bound Penguins. They will try to keep from being swept by Pittsburgh.

A win tomorrow would be good for the Flyers, but coach John Stevens said it's also important to set the tone for a better year next season and find a way to start putting this season behind them, even with 18 games to play.

"Certainly, we're going to evaluate our team over the remaining games, but I think it's important that we start playing well right away and do things for the right reasons," Stevens said. "Whatever we do between now and the end of the year is something that should be an identity and message for our team heading into next year, and that's collectively and individually.

"To me, we're trying to win every game. We're not trying to give guys minutes they don't deserve or put guys in the lineup that we don't think can help us win.

"We're going to put guys in situations where we think they can have success, and maybe put some new guys in situations they might not have had the opportunity to be in earlier. With players like [Peter Forsberg] no longer here, somebody else can get a chance on the power play. We're going to experiment with things that will give us success in areas that maybe we haven't had the success we wanted to have."

Stevens promised aggressive forechecking and strong puck pursuit.

"And I think when you play that way, you're a physical hockey team and you play with all kind of enthusiasm, and that's kind of the hockey team we're looking for," he said.

The players understand this and know jobs are on the line. Some prospects will be in the next camp, along with young guys such as Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, R.J. Umberger, Scottie Upshall, Stefan Ruzicka, Joni Pitkanen, Alexandre Picard, Braydon Coburn and Lasse Kukkonen who can show they are more than kids with potential.

"The stance around the room now is everybody wants to be here next year," Richards said. "With the young guys here and everything, I think it's going to be an exciting time. So, yes, the next 18 games, people will have to prove that they really want a job or deserve a job."

Heated rivalry

The Flyers-Penguins rivalry has been hot since last season, and the new schedule pitted the cross-state divisional opponents eight times.

It could get even hotter tomorrow as the Flyers bring their harder-to-play image to the Igloo, where the Penguins have newly employed tough guy Georges Laraque on board to protect "Sid the Kid."

Todd Fedoruk calls such players "heavies," and at 6-3, 243 pounds, Laraque fits that bill.

The two players are certainly familiar with each other and know their roles. During practice the other day at Harvard University, Fedoruk was asked whether he would monitor any classes.

He responded: "Not me. I'm majoring in punchology." *