Also: Niittymaki to start Thursday in New York
(Voorhees, NJ) – With a depleted lineup on Tuesday night in Atlanta, the Flyers managed to outplay the Thrashers for virtually the entire game in securing a 4-1 win
. Still, the team is more than happy to welcome back several key players in time for their division matchup with the New York Rangers on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden (7:00 p.m., Comcast SportsNet).
Simon Gagne (concussion), Jason Smith (leg injury), Sami Kapanen (facial lacerations) and Scottie Upshall (sprained ankle) all skated with their teammates on Wednesday at practice. Gagne, Smith and Kapanen will return in time for the game, but Upshall is still not able to play.
|Flyers captain Jason Smith is questionable for Thursday's game in New York. (Jack Cassidy) |
Of course, the big news is that Gagne, who has missed the last 26 games, will get back into game action after the long layoff.
“I’ll be nervous,” said the two-time 40-goal scorer. “I was a little bit nervous coming in for practice today. I felt good again on the ice and I’m looking forward to playing in New York.”
Gagne has been adamant that he would only return to the ice when he was 100 percent. Along with the concussion, he had been experiencing an issue with his neck.
Flyers-Rangers games are notoriously physical affairs, but that won’t deter Gagne from getting back out there. He can’t concern himself with worrying about opposing players coming after him, he said.
“When you’re ready to go back and play, it doesn’t matter what type of team they are,” said Gagne. “I know what I’m going to face tomorrow and I’m ready for it. I’m ready not only for them, but for every team now. That’s the way I have to go and not think about being scared of getting hit. You need to go out there and play your game.”
Kapanen will be wearing a full face shield when he returns in order to protect his upper lip which received 25 stitches after he was hit by a puck on Saturday in Toronto.
“I think they kind of put my teeth back in line and straightened them out, and put the wire on to hold them in place,” said Kapanen of his repairs. “I think there’s some damage we’ve got to work on over a period of time, but right now I should be ready to play.”
Smith also said he feels much better than he did earlier this week.
“Everything’s working the way it should now,” said the Flyers’ captain. “It was a little bit of a slow process, but things are circulating and pumping the way they’re supposed to.”
Niittymaki to start Thursday
John Stevens has decided to reward Antero Niittymaki with another start in net on Thursday at New York. Niittymaki has won his last three starts, surrendering just three goals in that span. He will be making his third consecutive start in net.
“It’s just an opportunity to play more. It’s 82 games in the year and I’ve said all along I’m going to get my share of games, and right now I’m playing a little bit more,” he said. “It’s good for me, and hopefully we can keep going and get two points tomorrow.”
|Antero Niittymaki makes one of his 54 saves on Saturday in Toronto. (Getty Images) |
“He’s just a hot goalie right now, and we’ve decided to ride him a little bit longer,” said Stevens. “He’s winning hockey games for us, just like Marty [Biron] has done. I think our goaltending has been great coming out of the break.”
Niittymaki suffered a torn labrum early last season, but decided to forego surgery until the summer. It is a decision that he said he does not regret, but at the same time he may now be reaping the benefits of being completely healthy.
“It was my chance to be the number one guy and I wanted to play through it,” he said referring to last year. “It didn’t work out too well, but I don’t worry about it.
“I think it really helps when you’re really healthy and can go out there and do your best every day.”
Biron is taking the time off in stride.
“Niitty really has been playing extremely well and we’ve got some great results,” said Biron. “I like to be pushed, and I also have always been a guy that puts a lot of emphasis on the team and what the team needs to do. My focus is on how the team is going to benefit from it all.”
Downie to stay on Richards’ line?
Flyers rookie Steve Downie has tallied a goal in back-to-back games, his first two in the NHL, and had a particularly strong showing Tuesday night as a winger on a line with center Mike Richards.
Even with the healthy bodies getting back into the lineup, Downie could stay on the Richards line when the Flyers face the Rangers.
“Steve plays center and wing and I think he can move up and down the lineup as the need presents itself,” said Stevens. “With all the media attention that’s surrounded Steve, I think we can forget he’s a very talented player. He’s got very good puck skills, he sees the ice, he can score and he’s an extremely competitive guy.
“He did a very good job on that line last night, and we’ll certainly consider keeping him on that line a little longer.”FLYERS NOTES
Ryan Potulny was reassigned to the Phantoms on Wednesday. ... Defenseman Alexandre Picard was named to the AHL All-Star team as a member of the Phantoms.