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Philadelphia Prepares for Western Conference Challengers

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers

Voorhees, NJ – After playing 24 games in October and November and putting together an impressive 15-6-3 record, the Flyers will have a new challenge facing them as December begins – the Western Conference.

With a greater emphasis on divisional play this season with eight games against each of the other four Atlantic Division teams, Philadelphia has yet to face a Western Conference team. The next seven contests, however, will be against various teams from the other side of the country.

The first of those games will be against Nashville on Saturday night, a team that can be considered one of the pleasant surprises so far this season, as they sit in second place in the Central Division with 33 points.

"We don't exactly get a lightweight to start with," said Ken Hitchcock of the approaching stretch. "It should be a tough go for us. They are a team that plays so well at home and is very much a sum of the parts. They play so well as a team and are so dynamic with their speed, that hopefully we're ready for it."

Philadelphia hosts each team in the Northwest Division once, and visits each team in the Central Division once. The Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild will all visit the Wachovia Center beginning next Tuesday night.

Forsberg Still Hurting

Flyers center Peter Forsberg skated for 45 minutes on Thursday morning with a small group of teammates. After coming off the ice, he indicated that his groin strain is not as healthy as he had hoped that it would be at this point.

"I thought it was going to be better than it was today when I skated hard. It's hard to say how long. I can't really say anything more," said Forsberg.

Before Forsberg exited the ice, Hitchcock had the following to say about the situation: "If there's any discomfort today, he won't practice with us [Friday] and therefore won't make the trip [to Nashville]."

Flyers Shut Down Devils

With the new NHL rules, teams are finding out how they should play in the third period of games when they have the lead. Hitchcock explained to the media on Thursday what methods the team used to shut down New Jersey and hold on to a 2-1 victory on Wednesday night at the Wachovia Center.

"We forechecked for 15 minutes in the third period, but after awhile when you get burned a few times doing it that way and give up the one big odd man rush, you have to be smart," he said. "Before, you could start the third period playing [back]. You can't do that now."

Hitchcock also explained that there is no way to trap a team anymore like you could before the rules changes.

"There are so many times with the way the game is played now that one pass, no matter how good your positioning, one pass can beat three guys," he said. "We're just trying to stay above the puck. It isn't really even a trap. We're angling and trying to make sure that when they are making these passes, that they are having to pass through sticks, legs and bodies.

"You're better off playing the way we do for 55 minutes now, which is just, pour it in. We're better playing that way."

Knuble Comments on Thornton Trade

Mike Knuble, who spent more than four seasons playing with Joe Thornton in Boston, had the following reaction about his former team when asked about the trade that sent Thornton to San Jose in exchange for Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau.

"I think everybody is questioning where that organization is going. What is the plan there? Joe was a franchise player and one of the top two or three centers in the league. I'm sure people will say that it looks like he doesn't play hard all the time and stuff like that, but still, he gets it done. Along with Glen Murray, they are a pretty good combination and those don't always come along.

"You're not only shaking up an organization, you're shaking up a whole city. Franchise sports figures, we've all seen in Philadelphia what they can do for a city and how they can change the vibe of a city and make people crazy, almost. Who knows how the fans will react? Thornton was mostly an untouchable, and who knows what the backlash will be?"
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