Voorhees, NJ – As the Flyers have struggled to pick up points in the last two weeks since returning from their long road trip, there has been one common theme among the games that they both win and lose. The team needs to come out stronger at the opening faceoff.
That was evident again on Thursday night in Buffalo, when the Sabres fired 16 shots on net compared with just three for Philadelphia. Although the game was tied 1-1 after the first 20 minutes and the team played better as the game went along despite losing 4-2, the Flyers would still like to get out of the gate better than they have lately.
"I think it was obvious that in the first period we had problems, but I think if you look at the second and third period we actually spent most of the time in their end. I don't know if we have a problem with it, but we talked about it [Friday] morning, about being more prepared to play," said Derian Hatcher. "Even if you go back to New York [a 3-2 overtime win on Monday], we didn't come out of the gate flying, either. As the game went on we got better and better. Right now we have to focus on trying to get a good start."
"We're trying to play catch-up far too often, and that's a hard way to play hockey," said Ken Hitchcock. "First of all, it's exhausting. Secondly, it means you've got to open up the game and try to play catch-up all the time. It's something that, I think, regardless of who the opposition is, we're capable of doing better things on the ice, especially starting hockey games. Much better."
Philadelphia will face the New York Rangers at home on Saturday (5:00 p.m., UPN) in what will be a battle for first place in the Atlantic Division. Both teams have 70 points, although the Flyers have played one fewer game than the Rangers. New York will be trying to avenge two consecutive overtime defeats at Madison Square Garden at the hands of the Flyers.
Despite the fact that first place will be on the line, Sami Kapanen still thinks that playing better should be motivation enough.
"All of the other things that are going on with the way we've been playing, that should be enough to get us going. Enough is enough," said Kapanen. "It's been about a month playing this way and there are no excuses at all the way we're playing. We just have to find a way to get back at it."
"I don't think we need a division title game to motivate us right now. I think what we need is better play for 60 minutes," added Hitchcock. "Our problem right now is this has been about 10 or 11 days now of catching games. I think that's what we talked to people about today. We met with our leaders and that to me is the common denominator."
With just five games remaining before the Olympic break, Philadelphia will try to get a bit of momentum going before the almost three-week hiatus.
"What we're going through now is not a quick fix. It's about building an overall momentum and a positive feeling and confidence when you hit the ice when you're playing every night," said Knuble. "I think we can flip it into something positive in the last five games here, and we intend to do that."Forsberg Hoping to Return Next Week
Flyers center Peter Forsberg skated for the second straight day on Friday and hopes to return to the lineup either next Wednesday when the Flyers host the New York Islanders, or next Friday, when the Washington Capitals come to the Wachovia Center.
Forsberg is recovering from a left groin strain, and was happy with his progress after skating.
"It felt pretty good, actually," said Forsberg. "It's getting better every day, and I'm definitely happy and it's good news. My groin didn't hurt today, so I'm just going to keep doing more and more now and hopefully be back next week."
The big question on everyone's mind is still whether or not Forsberg will compete for Sweden in the Olympics. He addressed that question once again on Friday.
"It is depending on how I feel next week. If I don't feel good, I'm not going to go," he said.
"I don't care what other people are saying. There's pressure from Sweden and pressure from over here, but if I'm healthy I'm going to go. I'd like to play for my country and try to win the gold. I'm not hiding it and I'd like to go over there and try to win. But if I'm not feeling healthy, I'm not going to go, and I think everybody knows that. I think when I get back on Wednesday or Friday everything should be fine and I should be ready to go."