(Voorhees, NJ, October 27, 2006) – Prior to their contest against Atlanta, Flyers Head Coach John Stevens called it a very big game. While that may or may not have put added pressure on him and the players, the 3-2 shootout victory lifted a weight off of the team's shoulders as it tries to rebound from a tough start to the season.
"I think it was a big sigh of relief [Antero] Niittymaki stopped that last puck last night," said Mike Richards, referring to the Flyers goaltender's denying of Ilya Kovalchuk's shootout attempt that ended the game.
Things will not get any easier, as Philadelphia will face another team on Saturday that has gotten off to a strong start in the Pittsburgh Penguins (7:00 p.m., Comcast SportsNet, 610 WIP). While Atlanta boasts of players like Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa as its main offensive weapons, the Penguins are just as dangerous with young stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Pittsburgh opened the season with a 4-0 shutout of the Flyers, which to many Philadelphia fans seems like ages ago due to the recent organizational shakeup. Peter Forsberg, however, remembers it well.
"We lost to them in their building and now they're coming into ours, so we've got to make sure we make it hard on these guys," he said. "Crosby and Malkin are good players, but every team has great players on their first line. We have to deal the same way with that one as we did with Kovalchuk and Hossa last night."
Stevens mentioned Richards on Friday as having a particularly strong game against Atlanta, despite not registering any points. His line, along with Kyle Calder and Sami Kapanen, dealt with Kovalchuk and Hossa for most of the night and were effective on defense while also getting some chances offensively. It is expected that the trio will have to battle against Crosby and Malkin on Saturday.
"It's not unusual to see those type of players step up because they have that kind of character where they want to make a difference, and they are good enough players to do that," said Stevens about Richards.
As for Richards, he isn't letting his scoring numbers get him down.
"You still don't want to jeopardize defense for offense, especially when you're playing against one of the better lines," said Richards. "As much as you want to break out of it, you don't want to give anything up."
The next step for the team is to build on the victory and continue to get better.
"Obviously, the game could have went either way last night, but the fact that we won made us see a lot of smiling faces," said Stevens. "Everybody is happy when you win, especially at home. You can see the enthusiasm in practice today. We have a young team and we have to kind of wean them with some success in order to build that enthusiasm, so I think it was great."
"It feels good that we won yesterday, but now we have to look forward to the next one," said Forsberg.
Niittymaki to Start Saturday; Esche on Monday
Stevens announced that Niittymaki would be back in net when the Flyers host Pittsburgh, and that Robert Esche will start on Monday against Chicago (7:00 p.m., Versus, 610 WIP).
"We thought that if [Niittymaki] played well yesterday, that we would go right back with him tomorrow, and then get Esche out there," said Stevens. "Things fell the way they did, and that's the way we're going to go.
"Our plan in the short term is to get both goalies back in the net within the first week and that's the plan we're going through with. I think Esche's attitude and his work ethic in practice needs to be rewarded with an opportunity to get in the game and play, and I think he's ready."