VOORHEES – The temptation for Scott Gordon would be to fantasize about having that “interim’’ tag removed from his Flyers’ coaching title.
Especially after general manager Chuck Fletcher said the other day that Gordon, who will make his debut behind the Philadelphia bench when Detroit visits tonight, is a legitimate candidate to be the next permanent head coach.
But according to Gordon, thinking ahead is the last thing on his mind.
All he wants to do right now is make this team, struggling at 12-15-4 and eight points out of a playoff spot, better.
That, says Gordon, is the way it’s always been throughout his hockey career.
There have been no assurances for this ex-goaltender, even though he’s been an NHL head coach (New York Islanders) and assistant coach (Toronto Maple Leafs).
So forget any talk about ulterior motives. If the Flyers find their way out of this pre-Christmas mess and somehow earn their way into the playoffs (providing Gordon is around that long), the results will speak for themselves.
It all starts tonight when rookie goaltender Carter Hart makes his NHL debut against the Red Wings.
No doubt, there will be plenty of hockey fans around the Delaware Valley and beyond watching and listening to see how this little drama plays out.
Gordon is used to this sort of pressure, which makes him such an attractive personality behind the bench.
It’s almost a “what have I got to lose?’’ attitude.
“I’ve never had the luxury to think that far in advance,’’ Gordon said about job security after Tuesday morning’s skate at the Skate Zone. “Even when I was playing I was day-to-day.
“I approach coaching that way. I’ve never looked at my next job before my previous job was finished. So all I can do is the best job I can do and let the chips fall where they may.’’
Some seven players who have been coached by Gordon will be in the lineup tonight, including Hart.
A few of those players were asked to contrast Gordon’s style with that of the recently deposed Dave Hakstol.
“I would say ‘Gordo’ is probably a little bit more vocal,’’ Scott Laughton said. “He’s more vocal on the bench, he yells a little bit more.
“I enjoyed playing for him (at Lehigh Valley). He’s fair. He lets you know when you make a mistake. But he’s fair to you and I think that’s huge.’’
Rookies Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom have experienced offensive struggles at times this year. The arrival of Gordon might be a chance to make a new start.
“It’s the best league in the world, so you can’t think too much about it,’’ Lindblom said. “You just have to keep grinding, try to be better everyday.’’
Patrick has just 10 points in 28 games with a minus-5, so he would like to get things back on track.
Against Detroit, he’s scheduled to move up to center the top line with Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny.
“I’ve been slumping pretty hard but I thought my last two games were pretty good,’’ he said. “TK brings a lot of speed and ‘G’ (Giroux) I believe is one of the top five players in the league.
“It (coaching change) is part of the business. When things aren’t going well, you shake things up.’’
As for Hart getting his first start, the “fellow’’ 20-year-old Patrick couldn’t be happier.
“That’s awesome for him,’’ Patrick said. “I’ve known him for a couple years and he’s a 20-year-old goalie playing in the NHL. I’m happy for him. It will be a fun game.’’
One of the first things on Gordon’s agenda will be attempting to improve special teams, especially the penalty kill, which has been languishing at the bottom of the NHL stats.
Gordon ran the penalty kill in Allentown. Currently it’s second in the AHL at 86.4 percent.
“The PK here has been better the last five games,’’ Gordon said. “So to come in here with no practice time (and make big changes) things could go bad. It helps that there are some players here who have done our (Phantoms) kill. But I don’t want to throw it (Phantoms system) in without the proper amount of practice time.’’
The appointment to interim head coach kind of caught him off-guard.
“Unexpected,’’ he said. “There was a lot going on Sunday. I didn’t expect anything to change from my end of it. Finally I got a call right before we went on the ice at practice (PPL Center in Allentown). Got a call from Chuck and asked me about my interest in the position.’’
At the Tuesday morning skate, Gordon re-introduced himself to everyone.
“First thing I did was talk to all the captains and a couple guys I knew from previous years, JVR (James van Riemsdyk) and AMAC (Andrew MacDonald) and just get the pulse of what was going on,’’ Gordon said.
“I think the biggest thing is I don’t want to complicate things right now, overload them with changes which not be necessary. Get a little feel for what’s going on live.
“They (the players) feel good about the group, which is encouraging. You’re not coming into a situation where everybody is beat-up and ‘woe is me’ mentality. I was encouraged by the things the guys had to say and we just have to find a way to right the ship.’’
In a bit of a strange coincidence, Gordon and Hart will be joining the Flyers for the first time on the first night.
“In the last five games, he (Hart) has gotten better,’’ Gordon said. “The deficiencies in his game have improved. I think he’s really starting to become a pro. Whether this is the right time or not, who knows? I know in the last five games he’s been better than prior to that.’’