Peter Laviolette called James van Riemsdyk into his office for a meeting. It was the day after Valentine's Day, when the Flyers had acquired crafty forward Kris Versteeg from Toronto to join an already-crowded lineup.
The two went over van Riemsdyk's role on the Flyers' top three lines - and Laviolette reiterated his expectations for the forward in his sophomore season.
The results were instantaneous. Van Riemsdyk dropped the gloves in his first NHL fight in the first period of the next game at Tampa Bay, then added a goal and an assist. And the success has continued.
Van Riemsdyk has played six games since Versteeg joined the Flyers, posting three goals and two assists with a plus-4 rating.
But now "JVR" has hit another little bump in the road. He missed Tuesday's practice with a nagging, but supposedly minor, lower-body injury. Yesterday, he was back with his teammates, but general manager Paul Holmgren said he will be a coach's decision tonight against Toronto.
It was Andreas Nodl, and not van Riemsdyk, who skated on a line with Mike Richards and Versteeg yesterday in practice. Nik Zherdev, who played Saturday in Ottawa for the first time in eight games, was with Claude Giroux and Jeff Carter.
Van Riemsdyk, 21, was actually a healthy scratch on Saturday - when he was sent to the AHL in a paper-only transaction that cleared room for the Flyers to claim Nick Boynton. It was a realization for van Riemsdyk that no matter the recent success, it's not always easy to keep it going.
"I thought I was playing pretty well and pretty consistently," van Riemsdyk said. "Ever since the beginning of the year, I thought I've played very consistently since then. It's tough, to have unforeseen circumstances happen Saturday and then a little blip [injury] here."
Van Riemsdyk (15 goals, 14 assists) already has matched the scoring total from his rookie season - and he is on pace to finish with 20 goals and 19 assists in 73 games. But he'd like to get back in the lineup before he can worry about hitting 20 goals.
"I don't really have a set number [in mind]," van Riemsdyk said. "But that would be a nice number. I'm just shooting every time I touch the puck, so every time I get one of those chances, I want to bury every one of them."
Tonight, the Flyers will begin a string of 15 games in just 28 days. Danny Briere said yesterday he expects "many of those games" to be one-goal decisions.
The lone difference in those games could well be special teams. And the Flyers' power play over the last 2 months hasn't exactly been special. The Flyers have converted on just 10 of their last 56 opportunities (17.9 percent), and the unit is floundering in the bottom third of the NHL.
"We've got to start producing on our power play," Peter Laviolette said.
For a unit that has been in the top five in each of the last three seasons, the recent numbers are more than just an alarming sample size. Some players have been openly concerned with the constant rotation of players through the power-play lines, but Briere can't blame Laviolette.
"We'd like to have a little more stability in the units," Briere said. "But at the same time, you have to perform. And when you're not performing and the results are not coming, the coach has to make changes. It's a catch-22. We'd like to stay together. Hopefully, they are the units we'll see for a while."
Two prospects signed
The Flyers scooped up two valuable prospects from the Ontario Hockey League, signing Jason Akeson and Tyler Brown to entry-level contracts. Both will report to rookie camp this summer.
Akeson, 20, leads the OHL in scoring with 24 goals and 79 assists for 103 points. He posted 80 points in 65 games last season for the Kitchener Rangers - the same program that produced Flyers captain Mike Richards.
Brown, 21, has 54 points in his over-age season with the Plymouth Whalers, ranking third on the team. Brown has 47 goals and 73 assists in 212 regular-season OHL games over four seasons in Plymouth.
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said 2 weeks ago the team is coveting some highly touted college prospects, such as Merrimack's Stephane Da Costa. College players cannot be signed until their season is over. Without a pick until the third round in June's draft, Holmgren's team of scouts has heavily covered the collegiate and junior ranks for possible diamonds in the rough to restock the cupboard.
Chris Pronger (hand/wrist contusion) and Blair Betts (lacerated finger) are expected to play tonight against Toronto. Betts might not be able to take faceoffs, which would require Darroll Powe to step in for draws . . . Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to start in net . . . Dan Carcillo (illness) is doubtful for the game, according to Paul Holmgren. Carcillo has missed practice the last 2 days.
"We haven't been happy with the way we've played of late, but the other part of that is conditioning. This is the last real break of the season. We need to make sure we're in shape for the last 20 games of the season."
- Flyers goaltender Brian Boucher, on Peter Laviolette's tough practices over the last 3 days, which included full-ice wind sprints every day. *