Philadelphia, PA – Mike Richards had a hat trick and fellow rookies Jeff Carter and R.J. Umberger each had a goal and an assist, as the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the New York Islanders at the Wachovia Center on Wednesday night, 5-2.
Richards completed the hat trick and sealed the Flyers victory with a shorthanded, empty net goal on a give-and-go with Michal Handzus to cap the scoring, as Philadelphia snapped a three-game losing streak. It was the first multiple-goal game for the rookie in his brief career.
"It's exciting. You don't really know how to feel. But to hear the crowd and see the hats, you just try to enjoy the moment a little bit," said Richards. "When it's at the end of the game and you know you won, you can enjoy it a little more."
The Flyers played the game without several key players due to injury. Peter Forsberg, Mike Rathje, Kim Johnsson and Chris Therien remained out, while Simon Gagne missed the game as well with a stomach virus. Eric Desjardins returned to the lineup for the first time since injuring his right shoulder on December 7, while Petr Nedved played after missing Sunday's game in Montreal with a right groin strain but left the game early after re-aggravating it.
"I think they were forced into that situation today because of our roster and they responded," said Ken Hitchcock of the rookies. "They took the challenge head on, but I don't think you want to diminish the impact of Eric Desjardins. It calms us back there big time and I think that combination was really good."
Johnsson and Therien will all be out until after the Olympic break, according to Hitchcock, while Rathje will be reevaluated. The Flyers have two games remaining before the Olympic break when they host the Washington Capitals on Friday night and travel to Ottawa on Saturday.
"Today and Friday are points we need going into the break," said Hitchcock.
The Flyers opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal at 3:09 of the first period thanks to Richards. He skated the puck into the New York zone and had it poked away, but regained possession before passing to Turner Stevenson between the faceoff circles. Stevenson took the shot and had it blocked, but it bounced around and eventually off of Richards' skate across the goal line.
A point shot on the power play by Freddy Meyer deflected off of Carter's skate and right to Umberger, who lifted it in at 13:32 to snap an 0-for-23 scoreless streak with the man advantage for Philadelphia and give the Flyers a 2-0 lead at the first intermission.
The teams combined for four goals total in the second period, two by each club. First, the Islanders cut the lead in half with a power play goal when Trent Hunter got position in front of the net to whack in the rebound of a floating shot by Brent Sopel at 3:22.
Richards' second goal of the night right gave the Flyers their two-goal cushion back at 5:26. Ryan Ready backhanded a pass from behind the net to a charging Richards, who tipped it into the near post. The play was blown dead by the officials who were setting up for a faceoff, but a video review clearly showed the puck crossed the line and a goal was awarded.
Ready, who was recalled from the Phantoms earlier in the day, picked up his first point in the NHL in his second career game.
New York made it 3-2 when Miroslav Satan got just enough of a centering pass to chip it past the glove hand of Robert Esche at 12:46, but Umberger skated around defenseman Chris Campoli along the boards and centered to Carter who tapped in his 14th goal of the season with 2:33 left in the period. Esche picked up an assist on the goal with an outlet pass to Umberger.
Esche finished the night with 20 saves to pick up the victory in net. Garth Snow took the loss allowing four goals on 26 shots.
"There's a calmness in the net. The thing I like about Robert is he has really accepted a mantel of leadership," said Hitchcock. "A lot of guys are out, he's had to step forward here and accept the leadership."
"Obviously it's nice that he considers me a leader," said Esche after learning of Hitchcock's post-game comments. "I have been practicing hard and been focused. I have been more involved with the team and my game has been better."
FLYERS NOTES Richards' hat trick was the first by a Flyers rookie since Mikael Renberg scored three goals in San Jose on February 15, 1994 in a 6-4 win. … This was the fifth of eight contests between the Flyers and Islanders this season. Philadelphia has now won four of the five. … Along with Ready, Stefan Ruzicka was also recalled from the Phantoms in time for the game. Ruzicka made his NHL debut.