Fort Lauderdale, FL – Flyers captain Derian Hatcher will return to the lineup on Wednesday night when the team faces the Florida Panthers as they continue their road trip.
Hatcher has missed the last two games after leaving a game early on March 8 with a bruised right knee.
Philadelphia arrived in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday night following a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Mellon Arena. Head Coach Ken Hitchcock wanted to give his team some time to relax a bit, giving them the day off on Monday. Some of the players played golf, while others sat around the pool or played volleyball on the beach. They resumed practice on Tuesday afternoon.
"I think any time you can do team building exercises, structured or unstructured, it's good," said Hitchcock. "This has been a team that has added some new players and got some players back from injury, so I think this stuff really adds and helps our team get positive energy for the final push."
Philadelphia has just 17 games remaining in the regular season and is still battling for playoff position. Despite some recent struggles, the Flyers are still just two points behind the New York Rangers for first place in the Atlantic Division.
The Panthers are in fourth place in the Southeast Division, but Hitchcock expects a tough push from Florida on Wednesday night.
"I think Florida is like a couple of other teams who seem to be playing their best hockey here at the end," he said. "Their team is stabilized and they have had the same players in the lineup for the last month or so and they are playing really well, especially in their building. It will be a tough test.
"They beat the team with the best record in the league (Carolina) twice here, and they beat played very well in beating them. I think everybody knows we'll have our hands full here to get two points."
Philadelphia is a perfect 3-0 against Florida this season, with three one-goal victories. In their previous trip here, the Flyers won 3-2 in a shootout.
Robert Esche will get his second straight start in net for the Flyers, while Michal Handzus' status will be determined on Wednesday morning at the pregame skate, according to Hitchcock. Handzus has been out since the Olympic break with a shoulder injury.