(Voorhees, NJ) – Flyers center R.J. Umberger, who has missed the last six games with a sprained left knee, took part in the team’s practice on Monday at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone
. He is hopeful to return to the lineup on Wednesday night when Philadelphia is in Pittsburgh to play the first of the final three games of the regular season (7:30 p.m., Comcast SportsNet).
Umberger was hurt in the Flyers’ last game at Mellon Arena on March 16. In 71 games this season, he has 12 goals and 37 assists for 49 points.
“It feels good. [Sunday] I got a day of rest, and over the weekend I was testing it pretty hard skating on it,” said the third-year center. “From Day One, I had all the forward movement, and the lateral movement is coming along. Hopefully, I can get back to playing soon.”
“He was fully integrated into practice so he’s getting a lot closer,” added John Stevens. “I think the tell-tale [sign] will be in the morning how he responds.”
While Umberger would not offer any guarantees to playing Wednesday, it’s fairly obvious why he wants to return. Umberger is a native of Pittsburgh, and has had some of the best games of his young career against the Penguins. In 21 career matchups, he has eight goals and 10 assists for 18 points, and six of those goals have come this season in six games.
Stevens said Umberger has been valuable for the team not just against the Penguins, but all season long despite not having regular linemates.
“He’s quietly had a very good year for us,” said the head coach. “We’ve kind of selfishly moved him around a little bit just for different needs of our hockey team and he ends up playing in all situations and being a very good player. He’s been a durable guy and hasn’t missed many games due to injury. He’s worked extremely hard on his conditioning so if he’s ready to go we’ll find a place for him.”
Of course, should Umberger return, Stevens will have to decide who would come out of the lineup. With Philadelphia going 5-0-1 in the last six games since Umberger was hurt, that decision is not going to be an easy one. He was asked after practice on Monday who would have to sit.
“Good question. I haven’t decided yet, but we’ll certainly make room for Umby,” said Stevens. “I think Umby has been a versatile guy that can play either the left or the right and he certainly belongs in our top nine forwards. If he’s ready to go, he’ll go in.”
Before he got hurt, Umberger was on a line with Danny Briere
and Vaclav Prospal. It is not likely Umberger would return there, however, since replacement Scott Hartnell
has shown an ability to create space on the ice as that line has been leading the way offensively in recent games.
With three days off between games, the Flyers aren’t afraid to admit that they’ll be doing a little scoreboard watching on Monday and Tuesday as the Eastern Conference standings remain as tight as ever.
“Obviously, like normal people, we watch the standings like everybody else does,” said Kimmo Timonen
. “Every time we win we’re maybe hoping somebody loses, but they won’t.”
The Flyers are tied with the Boston Bruins for seventh place in the Conference with 91 points. The Washington Capitals are the closest threat not currently in playoff position with 88 points, heading into Tuesday night's games. Washington hosts Carolina, while Boston is in New Jersey on Wednesday.
With Philadelphia seemingly on top of its game at the moment, it’s a little easier to watch the other games, said Briere.
“You feel a lot better about watching when you’re playing the way we have been lately,” he said. “You can’t control what’s going on, but you feel good because at least you’ve done your job and done what you’re supposed to do. You just hope to keep it going.”
Some recent records of teams close to the Flyers in the standings illustrate just why the standings remain so tight. Boston is 3-0-2 in its last five games; Washington is 8-1-0 in its last nine; the Rangers are 3-1-2 in their last six; and Carolina is 9-2-1 in its last 12.
With 11 of a possible 12 points in their last six games, Mike Knuble is still a little why the Flyers are still fighting so hard to clinch a playoff spot. Right now, they need any combination of four points gained themselves or lost by Washington.
“The amazing thing is we just can’t pull away,” said Knuble. “We’re thankful to be where we’re at and it’s just going to come down to the last possible minute, that last clutch goal or that last big save. That will be the season, basically.”FLYERS NOTES
Prospal, who missed Saturday's game with the flu, returned to practice and is fine. ... Martin Biron will start in net on Wednesday. ... The Flyers signed prospect forward Jon Kalinski
on Sunday and assigned him to the Phantoms.