(Voorhees, NJ) – Although the Flyers had won 12 of their last 15 games going into Sunday night’s contest in Anaheim, head coach John Stevens decided to make a slight change in his lines after a 4-0 shutout loss to the New York Rangers last Thursday. Scottie Upshall, who had been playing with Jeff Carter and Mike Knuble, flip-flopped with R.J Umberger, who was with Danny Briere
and Simon Gagne.
Although some may have questioned the move at the time since the Flyers had been on such a roll, Stevens came out looking like a genius as Knuble recorded his first-ever NHL hat trick and Upshall’s speed provided some good offensive pressure for his line in a 3-0 win. Those lines will remain the same when Philadelphia travels to Atlanta to face the Thrashers on Tuesday (7:00 p.m., CW-57).
“He just saw some chemistry there where Danny is a great puck [handler], and me and [Gagne] up the walls create a lot of speed,” said Upshall, who has eight goals and nine assists for 17 points in 36 games this season. “I thought we played well and I’m looking forward to getting a couple more games together.”
|Scottie Upshall has 17 points in 36 games this season. (Getty Images) |
Briere also felt that although they were kept off of the scoreboard, the three players seem to have a good on-ice rapport.
“I thought we played a good game against Anaheim. We created more chances and spent more time in the offensive zone compared to the last two games,” he said. “That was very encouraging. We had nothing to show for it, but I liked the game we played.”
Briere has been searching for regular linemates for almost the entire season. He and Gagne seemed to have an instant connection early on in the year before the winger went down for an extended period of time with a concussion.
While that hasn’t slowed his production down at all, as his 50 points places him second on the team in scoring, Briere would like to have steady wingers to his right and left. Hopefully, Upshall is the answer.
“It takes time and is frustrating because I was hoping it would happen quicker, but it’s good to be back with [Gagne] and on the other side we’re just looking for that guy who it’s going to click with,” said Briere.
“We’ve been searching for it all year, and I’m really excited about it the way we played our last game.”
Since returning to the lineup on January 10, Gagne has had his ups and downs. The ups came immediately when he put together a five-game point streak, but lately he has just one point (a goal against Los Angeles) in the last five games.
It’s a lull that he expected since he was out for so long, but it doesn’t make it any easier to take for the two-time 40-goal scorer.
“I’m a little bit frustrated, but I’m looking at it as a challenge to go through it,” said Gagne. “I was a little bit surprised the way I came out after missing a long period of time like that. I felt a lot of energy and a lot of jump, but I think it was expected what I’m going through right now. I was kind of ready for that, and it is part of the process.”
Lupul return delayed
Joffrey Lupul, out with a spinal cord contusion, will not be back in the lineup until February 14 at the earliest after a visit to his doctor on Monday morning. Although his MRI was clear, he was ordered not to come back any sooner than that date.
He was hoping to be back as early as Wednesday against Washington, but that will not happen.
“The MRI was clear but the doctor wants to err on the side of caution,” said Lupul of the diagnosis. “I can’t be too upset with that. In the long run it’s probably better to make sure I’m playing for this team in the playoffs and make sure it’s something that doesn’t bother me for the rest of my career.”
Stevens feels for Lupul, but agrees that the health of the young winger is much more important than rushing him back into the lineup.
“He’s a young guy, he wants to play, he’s excited about trying to get back and he feels good, but in the grand scheme of things we have to make sure that his health is a priority,” said the head coach. “We have to make sure that when he comes back he’s fully, 100 percent ready to play.”
|Steve Downie (center) celebrates his second period goal with Kimmo Timonen and Mike Richards on January 8 in Atlanta. The Flyers won 4-1. (Getty Images) |
Lupul has been out since January 4 when he collided with teammate Derian Hatcher in Toronto. He is still fourth on the team in scoring with 35 points (16g, 19a) in 39 games.
Niittymaki to start in Atlanta
Martin Biron stopped 27 shots in recording his third shutout of the year on Saturday, but it will be Antero Niittymaki getting the call between the pipes on Tuesday night. Niittymaki has played some of his best hockey against Atlanta, and has won seven straight against the Thrashers.
In the last game on January 8 at Philips Arena, Niittymaki made 27 saves in a 4-1 Flyers victory.
Biron will be back in the net on Wednesday when the Flyers host the Washington Capitals (7:00 p.m., Comcast SportsNet).
“I know [Biron] is coming off of a shutout, but looking at the schedule I kind of targeted that game for Niitty only because it seems to bring out his best game,” said Stevens. “We’re going to need a great game from Niitty. They are playing well, and it allows Marty to get right back in the net at home.”