All the whispers, the laughter and the funny facial expressions came to a screeching halt the day Pat Quinn walked into the Flyers’ locker room for the first time some 40 years ago.
The lantern-jawed coach took one look around the room and instantly had everyone’s attention.
A while later, he would take the Flyers on a professional sports record 35-game (25-0-10) unbeaten streak, followed by a playoff run that fell just two games short of a third franchise Stanley Cup.
It’s a bit early to draw parallels to current Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault but this much we do know: Every single player on this team knows their bench boss has led two different NHL clubs to the Stanley Cup Final.
If that isn’t enough to command everyone’s respect in a heartbeat, we don’t know what will.
So it’s rather easy to see why last year’s 82-point team is on pace to break 100 this time around, with a similar roster.
Yes, they’ve added Matt Niskanen, Kevin Hayes, Justin Braun and plugged in rookies Joel Farabee and Morgan Frost.
But a lot of the pieces are still the same.
Collectively, they’ve all been competing above preseason predictions mainly because Vigneault has them playing with structure, discipline and consistency.
For instance: When’s the last time the Flyers were the sixth-least penalized team in the National Hockey League?
Again, it goes back to executing a system and Vigneault watches that like a hawk.
The players pick up on this: They know that if properly prepared, they can play with anyone in the NHL, be it Washington, Boston, St. Louis or Edmonton.
“In-game, during play, he knows exactly what is going on,’’ said Laughton, who joined the team in 2012 and is now playing for his fifth coach. “He’s got a plan in place.
“Whether it’s power plays, penalty kills, the bench is never in panic mode. We know where to go and we know exactly what’s going on. That’s huge for us. Everything he said has been spot on.’’
In Laughton’s eyes, Vigneault deserves much of the credit for one of the best starts in recent Flyers’ history.
“It’s just been our consistency throughout the first few months,’’ Laughton said. “We haven’t gotten on any big losing streaks (like in past years) and digging ourselves a hole.’’
Hayes was part of that New York Rangers team which Vigneault took to the ’14 Final before falling short to the Los Angeles Kings.
When he decided to sign a free-agent contract with the Flyers this past summer, Hayes readily made it known that Vigneault’s presence here figured in the decision.
“He demands perfection,’’ Hayes said. “He holds guys accountable. He’s easy to play for. I think he’s top six in active wins (among NHL coaches), so he’s an easy guy to listen to, he knows what he’s doing.’’
That’s pretty much all a professional hockey player can ask for: Give me a game plan, go through the proper preparation for each opponent and let me know what I’m doing right and wrong.
“We have a lot of older guys on the team and a lot of younger guys,’’ Hayes pointed out. “When the older guys buy into it, the younger players don’t have an option not to buy into it.’’
What’s new to Flyers followers, media and perhaps even the players themselves is the way Vigneault feels comfortable evaluating his team and its individuals in a public forum.
Yet no matter how critical he is, he almost always finishes with a line to the effect: “He can do better and I’m sure he will.’’
That’s positive reinforcement and you can believe the players pick up on that vibe. Players stay out voluntarily after practice. They work harder in the gym. There’s an upbeat feeling around the whole operation.
“He’s honest,’’ Hayes said. “That (constructive criticism) is just how it is. We’re all men in this league. We make a lot of money and if you can’t take criticism, this isn’t the sport for you.
“It’s a season of peaks and valleys and if it was all peaks, there wouldn’t be any hard times. But everyone goes through hard times. You want to limit them as much as you can.
“I think he’s really good at who he can call out in the media and who he thinks he should talk to behind closed doors. He has a real good feel for the guys on this team.’’
There’s still a long road to travel to April but for now, it looks like they have the right guy in the driver’s seat.
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