Voorhees, NJ – After dropping their season-opener to the New York Rangers on October 5, the Flyers have reeled off seven straight victories on their home ice at the Wachovia Center. The hot streak couldn't have come at a better time, as the team is in the midst of its longest homestand of the season with five straight in Philadelphia.
It is important for the team to rack up the points now, because they are going to need them down the line according to several players.
"We play a lot of games at home and it's a good schedule for us right now, but it will be a little tougher coming up in December and January with 11 in a row on the road," said Peter Forsberg, referring to the monster road trip the team has later. "It's going to be harder. It's great that we're winning games and grabbing points now, because they are going to be harder to get later on."
"Our goal was to win all five, and we're kind of cruising through the schedule here," said Mike Knuble. "It's all about establishing the home presence and letting teams know that this is a tough place to win, and if they do they should feel pretty good about their game."
A couple of the Flyers' home wins this season have gone down to the wire, ending in a thrilling victory. All three of the teams' overtime victories have come on home ice, including two games in which Philadelphia tied the game with less than a minute left in regulation.
"I think that's the way the league is now," said Knuble. "Teams are two or three goals down now going into the last period or various times in the game. Almost every team has probably been through it themselves where they have been able to come back and tie the game, if not pull it out. It's just another step in building confidence in our team."
The homestand will conclude with games against the New York Islanders on Thursday night and Florida Panthers on Saturday night.Niittymaki to start in net on Thursday
Antero Niittymaki will get the call in net for the first time in almost two weeks when he faces the Islanders. He will be trying to rebound from a loss in Carolina on Octobers 28, when he allowed seven goals in an 8-6 loss to the Hurricanes.
"I felt pretty good that game, but I let in seven goals so obviously it wasn't a really good game, but physically I felt fine and I've felt fine every day in practice," said Niittymaki.
Head Coach Ken Hitchcock will have to rely upon Niittymaki much more towards the end of month when the team plays three sets of back-to-back games.
"I don't think we have a fair assessment of him right now until we get him into a rhythm," said Hitchcock. "The rhythm starts on the back-to-back stuff. He's going to play in games that are back-to-back in the front end or the back end. I think it's not the right thing to do to evaluate a guy who has played a limited amount of time. [His playing time is] going to increase here because our back-to-back stuff starts towards the end of November. I think from that standpoint, we'll get a better evaluation."
Niittymaki is 2-1 with a 4.59 goals-against average and .833 save percentage in three games this season.Flyers on plus/minus leaderboard
While Simon Gagne and Forsberg are leading the league in goals and assists, respectively, they are also among the NHL leaders in another category – plus/minus.
The hero from Tuesday night's 4-3 victory over Boston, Joni Pitkanen, leads the league with a +16 rating. Forsberg and Gagne are tied for fourth at +14; Mike Rathje is 10th at +12 and Knuble is tied for 13th at +10.
"Right now we have a couple goals five-on-five and we have a couple guys up there," said Gagne. "We know with the new NHL and the new rules there are more power plays and PK's and maybe it's a little tougher to get goals five-on-five, but we're getting some."
One area the Flyers will need to improve upon is their penalty-killing percentage. They are currently last in the NHL with a 75.8-percent success rate.