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Gagne and Richards Ready to Return

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers

Voorhees, NJ – Two of the Flyers' biggest offensive weapons should be ready in time for Thursday's key Eastern Conference game when the Ottawa Senators visit the Wachovia Center (7:00 p.m., CSN).

Simon Gagne and Mike Richards both practiced with the team for a second straight day. Gagne has been out for the last five games with a right groin strain, while Richards suffered a head injury during a game on December 15 against Vancouver, which sidelined him for the team's two previous games.

Flyers Head Coach Ken Hitchcock is certainly glad to have players returning to the lineup in time for a tough matchup with the team that is tied for the league lead in points with 49 (23-5-3).

"We've had four forwards come back with Richards and Gagne both playing tomorrow, which is great news," said Hitchcock. "This is as strong of a lineup as we have had to play in the last 30 or 40 days so this is good news for us."

Gagne will be back on his regular line with Peter Forsberg and Mike Knuble. Forsberg and Gagne have not played together in almost a month, as Forsberg suffered a groin injury of his own on November 25 in Boston. Gagne is still tied for second in the league in goals, however, with 23. He trails only Carolina's Eric Staal (24).

"It's great to have Simon back," said Knuble. "Any time we get guys back it brings up the confidence in the room, and obviously Simon is a leading goal scorer in the league and a huge part of our team and our offense. It's a huge shot in the arm for the team."

For the first time in a long time, the Flyers were able to hold a practice with the majority of the lineup. That should help for Thursday's game, according to R.J. Umberger.

"It was nice to get some good drills going and some speed and momentum. It was the first time in the long time that we did that and our team really needs that right now," said Umberger. "We've been doing well without it, but eventually it's going to wear on you. It will help us big time going against Ottawa.

"Everybody is on the same page going into [Thursday]. We got a lot covered out there and it's going to help us in the game."

The players certainly realize the challenge that Ottawa will pose. The Flyers defeated the Senators in the teams' first meeting on October 30 at the Corel Centre, 5-3.

"They are obviously the team to beat in the East and the team to beat in the league," said Knuble. "It's going to be a good test for us. We think we've had some luck and some good play from guys coming up that were recalled, but we're going to be really tested tomorrow. I think they're going to view us as a top team in the East too, and probably make sure they've got their A-game ready to go. We talk about other teams being a test, but this is a real big one."

"I think what we've shown is we can compete against anybody, but there's competing and then there's beating," said Hitchcock. "Ottawa is a team that is a measuring stick for us. We want to beat them and show that we are as good or better than they are. They've had these challenges all year, and it was the same attitude we had against Buffalo. That is what was disappointing against Buffalo. We played well, but we didn't beat them in regulation or in overtime. We want to be able to do that. We want to win those games."

Gagne Excited to Go Back to Olympics

Simon Gagne was named to Team Canada for the 2006 Olympic Winter Games on Wednesday. Gagne was a part of the gold-medal winning team in 2002.

"I was there in 2002 when we got the gold and that is, I think, the biggest highlight in my career," said Gagne. "That was fun, and I'm looking forward to trying to do the same thing again this year. I like the team we have with some new faces and some veterans again."

While Gagne would like the chance to go for the gold once again, he also views the whole Olympic experience as a building block for his progress in the NHL.

"If you look in the past, a lot of good players get better and better because of those tournaments. That's why I want to go there; first to represent my country and win the gold medal, but on the other side try to become a better player and learn from the best, and absorb more and more to be the best player I can for the Flyers."
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