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Flyers Coming Together in Time for Ottawa

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers

Voorhees, NJ – While the Flyers have been playing solid hockey of late, winning four of their last five and moving into a first place tie in the Atlantic Division, they will get another test on Saturday when the Ottawa Senators are in town (7:00 p.m., CSN).

Philadelphia has won two of the three games in the season series so far.

"It's not just another tough opponent, it's the big dog," said Ken Hitchcock after Friday's practice. "We've played pretty well against Ottawa all year. Our guys know how difficult a test it is. It's not only their skill level; it's their competitive level. They compete at a very high level. I think our players recognize that. If you're not playing at a high level, you can really get embarrassed on the ice."

"It's a team that's really confident and they have so many ways to win games," added Sami Kapanen. "They have good goaltending, they play solid team defense, and they've got plenty of firepower up front. Either way, they can kill you if you don't play your best game."

Despite the absence of starting goaltender Dominik Hasek, Ottawa has remained a top team behind goaltender Ray Emery, who has an impressive 19-5-2 record and 2.59 goals-against average going into the Senators' game on Friday night in Buffalo. Hasek was injured in the Olympics and has not played since the break.

Hitchcock compared Emery's situation to that of Antero Niittymaki, who will start in net for Philadelphia on Saturday.

"Emery was a great goalie in the AHL, but I don't think anyone knew how good he was until they were forced to play him," said Hitchcock. "It was a similar situation with us and Niittymaki. We didn't know how good he was until we were forced to play him. I don't think you know how good they are until they are forced into situations where they give quality start after quality start."

Derian Hatcher likes the way the Flyers have been playing lately, including an emotional 6-3 win over the New York Rangers on Wednesday night.

"You can see in our game where we are a lot more focused on the ice with our positional play," said Hatcher. "I feel we've been working hard for a long time and now we're a little bit more focused. It definitely seems like it's coming together a bit."

Umberger Okay

Flyers rookie winger R.J. Umberger sported a badly bruised right eye in Friday's practice, but is still able to take part in every drill and is fine to play. New York's Ryan Hollweg hit Umberger from behind in Wednesday's game, and picked up a three-game suspension from the league on Thursday.

To make sure the injury doesn't get any worse, Umberger will be wearing a shield for the time being.

"It didn't affect me too much in practice," said Umberger of the injury. "I'm wearing a shield for now. Maybe [wearing a shield] is something smart, but it's hard to change. I'm used to playing without one."

Umberger specifically remembers everything that happened during the play.

"When I first got hit, I had a quick flash," he said. "I knew where I was and was conscious the whole time. I had a little headache right away, but when I got stitched up it went away. When I came back, I felt pretty good. I didn't feel out of place or lethargic."

Gauthier Happy to be Locked Up

Flyers defenseman Denis Gauthier practiced with the team for the first time since signing a three-year contract extension on Thursday.

"Coming in late in the season, [I did not know] if I was going to be part of the long term plans here or if I was a rental player," he said. "This makes me feel a lot better about being here and wanting to battle for the rest of the year with these guys."

Gauthier feels he is a much more complete and mature player than he was when he first broke into the NHL with Calgary and then Phoenix.

"I was a lot more of a yapper when I was younger and came into the league, and now I just like to let my physical play do the talking. People don't like that, and that's just human nature. People don't like to get pushed around, and I like to throw my body around because it raises other guys' emotions," said Gauthier.

"I just don't want to put my team in trouble at any time, and if I take penalties, I make sure they are good ones. That has been a big transition in my game this season, where I try to stay on the ice as much as I can and let the other teams take the penalties on me."
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