Voorhees, NJ – With defenseman Kim Johnsson currently out of the lineup with a concussion and no time table for his return, Ken Hitchcock has been forced to adjust his blue line to cope with the significant void.
Hitchcock has shifted some players' roles to take the place of Johnsson and feels that right now, he has a core group that is playing very well.
"We're in pretty good shape. We've got six guys who collectively are playing really good as a group, for the most part," said Hitchcock. "I think it's a good mix. It's a combination, especially with the addition of [Denis] Gauthier that is a good mix. The thing I like about it is we've got designated guys for the power play and designated guys for the penalty kill."
Johnsson was averaging more than 23 minutes of ice time before going out just prior to the Olympic break in early February. He played in every situation, including the power play and penalty kill. Other players have had to fill those roles, said Hitchcock.
"We've already moved on with guys like Freddy [Meyer] and in a lot of cases we've used either Petr Nedved or Sami Kapanen on the back end," said Hitchcock.
Johnsson skated with the injured Keith Primeau as well as trainer Jim McCrossin for about 30 minutes after the Flyers held their daily skate at the Sovereign Bank Flyers Skate Zone Friday, but chose not to speak with reporters after he was done.
Hitchcock knows that he can't rely on Johnsson to return.
"The reality is we've already moved on. We've had to do those things," said Hitchcock. "Anybody that comes back from injury at this time has to be looked at as strictly a bonus. If he comes back in, it's another bonus for us and our team. That's the only way we look at it right now. We've had to collectively move on. If he's able to get back, that gives us more depth that we didn't have two days ago."
While the news on Johnsson returning has not been the best, one player who appears to be back at full speed is defenseman Joni Pitkanen. Pitkanen was averaging about a point per game for most of the season until a sports hernia sidelined the second-year blueliner in December.
After a long recovery period in which he had to skip the Olympics, he is back to his old self, according to Hitchcock. In his last 10 games, Pitkanen has two goals and 12 assists.
"We had a tremendous player in our midst, and then he got hurt. A five-week injury is one thing, but then it took another five weeks for him to get up to speed to where he is now," said Hitchcock. "That's the reality of this business when you have long-term injuries. It's not just getting the player back, but it's getting him back and then getting him up to speed. That's the biggest challenge."
Hitchcock and the rest of the Flyers' coaching staff are looking forward to see how Pitkanen does in his second NHL postseason.
"We're excited to see how he does in the playoffs, because this is his second go with a lot more experience and a clear understanding of what it takes and we think he's going to have a great playoff, too."
FLYERS NOTES Nedved and Simon Gagne both returned to the ice Friday after getting the day off on Thursday. … Brian Savage remained out due to personal reasons. … Antero Niittymaki will start against New Jersey Saturday, while Robert Esche will play in New York against the Islanders on Sunday.