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Philadelphia spent the offseason putting together a potential Stanley Cup contender. However, the Flyers will have a decidedly different look when they host the Washington Capitals.
Much has been made of Philadelphia's high-profile acquisitions like Peter Forsberg and Derian Hatcher, but when they take the ice on Thursday, the Flyers will have three rookie centers in the lineup.
Not many NHL teams have that many first-year players at such a critical position, but coach Ken Hitchcock has no qualms about using Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and R.J. Umberger.
"The future starts (Thursday)," Hitchcock said after practice Wednesday.
Umberger was called up to replace the injured Keith Primeau. With the All-Star center sidelined indefinitely with a concussion, Umberger could be around for a while.
"Players get hurt and we don't how long they're going to be out for," Hitchcock said. "We're going to get a real hard look at these guys right away."
Richards has gotten off to a quick start and is tied for fifth among NHL rookies in scoring with nine points.
After a slow start, Carter has goals in two of the last three games.
The Flyers said Umberger, who made his NHL debut in Sunday's 5-3 win at Ottawa, was one of the most impressive players in the preseason.
"We just love his competitiveness," Hitchcock said. "He's a reckless player, and that type of player seems to have a lot of success in the NHL right now."
Adding to the drama will be the Flyers' first regular-season look at Washington rookie sensation Alexander Ovechkin, who leads all first-year players in goals with eight.
"If I lived in Washington, I would pay whatever the season ticket was to watch this kid play," Hitchcock said of Ovechkin. "He's a special player, a unique player who comes around once every 10 years."
Unfortunately for the Caps, he's been about the only bright spot during a sluggish 4-7-0 start to the season.
Ovechkin scored two goals, including a short-handed score, in a 4-2 loss at Tampa Bay on Oct. 28.
The team hasn't played since as its game at Florida on Sunday was wiped out by Hurricane Wilma.
The last time these teams met in the preseason, Jon Sim sparked Philadelphia's five-goal third period with three scores, including one with 16.2 seconds left that forced overtime and led to a 7-6 shootout win on Oct. 1.
TEAM LEADERS: Capitals- Ovechkin, 8 goals and 13 points; Steve Eminger, 7 assists; Eminger and Brendan Witt, 27 PIM. Flyers - Simon Gagne, 10 goals; Forsberg, 17 assists and 19 points; Donald Brashear, 22 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Capitals- Power play: 11.2 percent (7 for 62), 29th in NHL. Penalty killing: 76.0 percent (70 for 92), 27th. Flyers - Power play: 19.7 percent (16 for 81), 11th. Penalty killing: 75.0 percent (54 for 72), 28th.
GOALTENDERS: Capitals - Olaf Kolzig (4-6-0, 0 SO, 3.76 GAA); Brent Johnson (0-1-0, 0, 5.07). Flyers - Robert Esche (4-2-1, 0, 3.14); Antero Niittymaki (2-1-0, 0, 4.59).
LAST MEETING: Oct. 1; Flyers, 7-6 (preseason). Stefan Ruzicka scored the only goal in the shootout to give Philadelphia a wild, come-from-behind victory over Washington, which squandered a 5-1 lead.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Capitals - 1-4-0 on the road; Flyers - 4-1-0 at home.