(Voorhees, NJ, October 25, 2006) – With four practices led by new Head Coach John Stevens under their belts, as well as a record they are eager to improve upon, the Flyers are ready to get back into game action tonight when they host the Atlanta Thrashers for the first of a five-game homestand (7:00 p.m. Comcast SportsNet, 610 WIP).
The team appeared very loose, energized and focused following Wednesday morning's skate at the Virtua Health Flyers Skate Zone.
"With everything that happened, there's lots of positive energy around here now," said Mike Richards. "Everyone is excited for tomorrow and the start is going to be huge. If we get the first goal, it will bump our confidence up a bit and hopefully we can run with it."
"I think everybody is pushing it very hard right now. With five days between games, I think we're getting to the point where everybody just wants to start playing the games again," added Sami Kapanen. "It's been a long break and a lot of things happened since the last game. We just have to go out there now and do a better job and that's the bottom line."
Stevens has made changes not only to the practice regimen, but also to the line combinations. With the last game coming nearly a week ago, he has had the benefit of extra time to implement these changes in time for a team that has gotten off to a quick start in the Thrashers (7-1-2).
Stevens doesn't mince words when asked about the importance of the contest.
"It's a very big game, and I think we need to look at it like that," he said. "For me right now, every game is a big game and this is just a great opportunity for us to get going here. Absolutely, it's a big game and we need to approach it with a sense of urgency."
"We've been practice for a few days now and everything feels good, but tomorrow, if we come out and don't win the game it's back to reality," said Peter Forsberg.
Forsberg will be a game-time decision according to him, as he recovers from a sprained left wrist sustained during last Thursday's game in Tampa Bay that caused him to miss Friday's contest in Florida.
One player who will be on the ice for certain, however, is goaltender Antero Niittymaki. Niittymaki may be facing fellow Finnish goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who has been as important to Atlanta's start as its offensive stars like Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa.
"He's a good young goalie and he was hurt almost the whole first half of the year last year and I think that's why they didn't make the playoffs. He's a big part of that team," said Niittymaki. "They have a lot of firepower there, too, so we have to be ready for that."
Hossa is currently first in the league in goals with 10 and points with 15. The Thrashers lost 5-4 in overtime in Carolina on Wednesday night.
While Niittymaki will start against Atlanta, Stevens also plans on getting Robert Esche into the action as well in the near future.
"I met with both goalies [Tuesday] and told them I think it's important that we get them both playing," said Stevens. "We haven't made any firm decision past Thursday, but Esche will get in the net here real soon."
As for Stevens, he expects to have a couple butterflies for his first NHL game as head coach, but he is by no means worried.
"I'm sure personally I'll be a little bit nervous, but it's still running a hockey team and that's something I've done for six years now," he said. "I've got a great support staff around so we're excited and anxious to get going."
"It's been three or four days with the new coach so I think everybody is still excited about the first game to go out there and prove that we're a better hockey club and we've got the potential with this team," said Kapanen.