Flyers news

Atkinson takes ‘full ownership,' Tortorella ‘thrilled' by Frost's initiative

Atkinson and Frost will return to the Flyers' lineup Saturday after being benched Thursday

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VOORHEES, N.J. — John Tortorella didn't have much to say after Thursday night's game for why he benched Cam Atkinson and Morgan Frost, opting to instead play 11 forwards and seven defensemen.

But with the emotions of a difficult shootout loss having settled, the head coach was willing to divulge more Friday.

Atkinson, an established player stuck in a 22-game goal-scoring drought, sat for the first time this season.

Tortorella is ready to see the veteran winger back in the lineup Saturday when the Flyers host the Flames (1 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

"Just to see if he responds," Tortorella said after practice. "This isn't a, 'I hate you, you're never playing again' type of thing. We need to get some sort of reaction because it has been unacceptable.

"I'm not going to go into why and all — and it's not just the stats. It's easy to look at he hasn't scored, but there are so many other things that come into play. We want to see if he responds, same thing with Frosty."

Atkinson said he had a positive conversation with Tortorella. This is not their first rodeo together.

"The coaches need to hold everyone accountable, to the same standard, no matter who you are, what you've done, what you've accomplished, how old you are," Atkinson said. "That's what makes a great organization."

Atkinson played parts of six seasons under Tortorella with the Blue Jackets and vouched for him in April 2022 when the Flyers conducted their head coaching search.

"I have too much respect for him to let him continue to go down the road he was going," Tortorella said. "It's not one thing; coaches don't bench players for one particular thing. I have too much respect for him; I'm very close with him because we've spent so much time together. I cannot let him go down the road any further. We'll see if he can kind of U-turn a little bit here and get back on the right road."

Prior to being benched, Atkinson had taken five penalties over his last six games. He has a minus-9 rating on the season and had previously talked about needing to make a positive impact if he's not scoring.

"I take full ownership," Atkinson said Friday. "I've been in the league a long time — I know when I'm on the top of my game and when I'm not. [Tortorella] has given me opportunities to try to figure it out a little bit and ultimately that's what I need to do.

"I've got to get back to playing with my energy and demanding the puck and wanting the puck. I've kind of let that slide to hoping that things would come my way and obviously they haven't."

Atkinson's career has been fueled by motivation. He was an undersized sixth-round draft pick in 2008 who has gone on to score 244 goals over parts of 12 NHL seasons.

"I have all the confidence in myself," Atkinson said. "I had a couple of good practices, just scoring goals. Once I start putting the puck in the net, everyone's going to stop talking.

"I feel confident in myself — I always have, always will be no matter what people think or say. I'll get back to it."

For Frost, Thursday's healthy scratch was his 11th of the season. When a 24-year-old center is sitting that many times on a team emphasizing youth in a rebuild, it's fair to wonder how Tortorella views Frost's fit for the future.

Despite recording six points (two goals, four assists) and a plus-4 rating over his last 11 games, Frost was still held out of the lineup. Along with Atkinson, he'll draw back in Saturday against Calgary.

When Frost was benched for six straight games in October, he was a pro and maintained a positive outlook.

On Friday, Frost approached Tortorella for a meeting. We'll see if it serves as a breakthrough of sorts.

"Today was really a good, honest conversation of what's happening now and just kind of big-picture stuff," Tortorella said. "He's the one who wanted the meeting. For me, I was thrilled that he came in and wanted to talk and gave me some of his thoughts, not agreeing.

"That's a huge step for me with Frosty, is him coming in and saying, 'You know what, this is what I think.' It's so important that players do that. It creates a little bit of a path for him and I as we try to go through this."

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