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Just when Philadelphia Flyers appeared to be getting healthy, another key player goes down with an injury.
Though Peter Forsberg and Robert Esche are expected to return, the Flyers will play their first game of the season without top goal scorer Simon Gagne as they host the Minnesota Wild.
Leading the league with 23 goals through Thursday's action, Gagne has been on his way to a career year playing on the top line with Forsberg. However, Gagne's season hit a snag Friday, when an MRI revealed a groin tear that will sideline him for at least two weeks.
"It's tough news to take right now, especially with the start I have had and everything was going well," Gagne said. "Right now, we're going through so many injuries and my turn came. I felt so bad the last two games that I knew something was wrong."
Earlier this week, Philadelphia lost its top two defensemen. Eric Desjardins will miss eight to 10 weeks with a dislocated right shoulder, and Joni Pitkanen is expected to sit out about a month with a torn abdominal muscle. Plus, captain Keith Primeau has been sidelined with a concussion since last month and forward Turner Stevenson is still out with a hip injury.
Forsberg, though, is finally returning after missing two weeks with a groin strain which originally was supposed to keep him sidelined for one to two games.
"I feel good and I feel confident that everything is going to be OK, and I have no hesitation going out there," said Forsberg, who has a team-leading 39 points in his first season with the Flyers.
Esche also will be back, though coach Ken Hitchcock said he'll serve as the backup to Antero Nittymaki. Esche hasn't been in net since Nov. 30 because of a groin injury.
Nittymaki's counterpart is likely to be Manny Fernandez, who was leading the league in goals-against average (1.87) and save percentage (.938) through Thursday's games.
Fernandez is coming off his first shutout since March 2004, making 22 saves in Minnesota's 5-0 win Thursday over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"I think we did everything we wanted to," said Fernandez, who has yet to give up more than three goals in a game this season.
The Wild, who ended a four-game losing streak on Thursday, are closing a five-game road trip.
They'll do it without forward Kyle Wanvig, who was suspended for one game by the NHL for drawing an instigator penalty in the final minutes of Thursday's win.
The suspension, and the $10,000 fine handed to coach Jacques Lemaire, were a result of the league's new instigator rule for starting a fight in the final 5 minutes of regulation or in overtime.
TEAM LEADERS: Wild - Brian Rolston, 11 goals and 22 points; Pierre-Marc Bouchard, 14 assists; Derek Boogaard, 55 PIM. Flyers - Gagne, 23 goals; Forsberg, 31 assists and 39 points; Pitkanen, 42 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 9): Wild - Power play: 18.6 percent (27 for 145), 11th in NHL. Penalty killing: 88.7 percent (134 for 151), 1st. Flyers - Power play: 19.3 percent (34 for 176), 7th. Penalty killing: 77.3 percent (130 for 168), 30th.