(Voorhees, NJ, February 6) – With points in their last four games, including two wins against the Southeast Division-leading Atlanta Thrashers, the Philadelphia Flyers are seeing something they have failed to see just about all season long: progress.
"If you look at the last six games, we have played good teams. Most of the teams we played have been playoff teams, and we have been competing every single game," said Peter Forsberg. "We have been playing much better and playing with more grit and fire then we did before, so it is good to see and fun being out there and playing. We hopefully can build on that and get better and better."
Mike Knuble, who is second on the team in scoring with 35 points, agreed with his linemate.
"I feel that we are on the upswing," he said. "Guys are fitting in better and settling in their roles. As a group, we are getting healthy and it's too bad that we are 50 games into the season."
One area that Philadelphia would certainly like to improve upon is its home record. The Flyers have not won at home since November 24, but have picked up seven road victories in that span. Following a game on Wednesday night on Long Island, five of the next six games will come at the Wachovia Center.
"To be a successful team in this league, you have to have a good home record. You try to play .500-ish on the road, and home is supposed to be the easy place to play and it hasn't been for us," said Knuble.
"We hate that we have not won in a long time at home and had a good solid home win. That has been frustrating."
Still, the Flyers expect to get that elusive home victory soon and keep their level of play as high as it has been of late.
"We are trusting each other more on the ice. We are playing better, and it is not just one or two guys, it is the whole team that is playing better," said Forsberg. "We still have a long way to go, but at least we are playing better."
Goaltender Robert Esche did not practice on Tuesday at the Virtua Health Flyers Skate Zone, but went with the team up to Long Island in the afternoon. Esche left Saturday's victory in Atlanta with an injury after allowing one goal on five shots in just under seven minutes of play.
He explained what happened.
"After the Tampa game [on January 30] I had trouble getting out of bed. I had high back spasms, and I got it worked on and all that stuff, and if felt fine the night before the game. I told [John Stevens] that I felt fine.
"The very first shot of the game, it was a broken play. I think it went off of [Alexei Zhitnik's] stick I think and it was a routine butterfly, and everything just started locking up. I don't know how it happened or what happened. I think I played another six or seven minutes and I was turning and I couldn't really move. I ended up coming to the bench during the TV timeout and told Jimmy [McCrossin] I think I've got to come out, I am only going to hurt the team if I stay in."
Esche is questionable to dress on Wednesday night against the Islanders meaning Antero Niittymaki will start in net. Michael Leighton, who was recalled by the Flyers on Sunday from a conditioning stint with the Phantoms, would serve as Niittymaki's backup if Esche is not healthy enough to play.
In five games with the Phantoms, Leighton was 2-0-2 with a 1.56 goals against average and .948 save percentage.