January 16, 2003
GAME: Toronto Maple Leafs (24-10-8-3) at Philadelphia Flyers (20-10-10-5). TIME:
Friday, 7 p.m. EST.
The Philadelphia Flyers are winless in six straight games and in desperate need of a spark.
The return of captain Keith Primeau and a home-and-home series against the first-place Toronto Maple Leafs could provide one.
Philadelphia owned the NHL's best record through the first week of December, but has won just three of its last 18 games (3-7-4-4). The Flyers, losers of a season-high three straight, are 0-4-1-1 in six games without Primeau, who sustained a broken thumb in a 2-1 victory at Florida on Jan. 2.
After watching his team give Buffalo 14 power-play opportunities in an ugly 6-2 loss on Tuesday, Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock hopes his captain's return and some strong two-way play will make a difference.
"I can't tell you how much it means," Hitchcock said. "He's a very strong presence and he allows us to do the things that we do well as a team. He sets the standard that we want to have set."
Primeau's return comes at the perfect time because the Flyers will be without leading scorer Jeremy Roenick on Friday. Roenick was suspended one game by the NHL for throwing a water bottle at an official on Tuesday.
While the Flyers have failed to extend their shrinking lead in the Atlantic Division, they also haven't made up any ground on the Eastern Conference-leading Maple Leafs, who are challenging for the league's best record.
Philadelphia-Toronto has become one of the league's fiercest rivalries, quickly developing after the Flyers routed the Leafs 6-1 in Game 7 of the conference quarterfinals last season. The Flyers pounded the Leafs 7-1 at Toronto in the first meeting this season on Nov. 1.
"Our rivalry with the Leafs is different than with any other team," Flyers enforcer Todd Fedoruk said. "There's a lot more hate there."
The teams meet again Saturday at the Air Canada Centre.
"It will be a big weekend," Toronto defenseman Bryan McCabe said. "We have been looking forward to this for a while. They embarrassed us last time in our building so it is going to be a hard-fought series and it will be fun."
McCabe scored a pair of power-play goals and Ed Belfour needed to make just 15 saves as Toronto ended a two-game losing streak with a 4-1 victory over Calgary on Tuesday.
Few teams have been hit harder by injuries this season than the Leafs, who played Tuesday without forwards Alexander Mogilny, Owen Nolan and Robert Reichel and defensemen Ken Klee, Tomas Kaberle and Wade Belak.
Klee will not play Friday and could also miss Saturday's game. The other five are on schedule to play later this month or in February.
STANDINGS (through Jan. 14): Maple Leafs - 59 points, 1st place, Northeast Division. Flyers - 55 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Maple Leafs - Mats Sundin and Gary Roberts, 16 goals; Sundin, 28 assists and 44 points; Tie Domi, 95 PIM. Flyers - Mark Recchi, 16 goals; Roenick, 22 assists and 37 points; Donald Brashear, 81 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Jan. 14): Maple Leafs - Power play: 19.1 percent (40 for 209), 8th in NHL. Penalty killing: 85.8 percent (177 for 218), 10th. Flyers - Power play: 21.7 percent (38 for 175), 3rd. Penalty killing: 84.2 percent (171 for 203), 16th.
GOALTENDERS: Maple Leafs - Belfour (19-12-5, 4 SO, 2.21 GAA); Trevor Kidd (3-1-1, 1, 2.78). Flyers - Robert Esche (10-5-4, 1, 1.97); Jeff Hackett (10-10-6, 3, 2.39).
SEASON SERIES: Flyers, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Nov. 1; Flyers, 7-1. At Toronto, Michal Handzus, Kim Johnsson and Justin Williams scored in the opening eight minutes to lead Philadelphia.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Maple Leafs - 12-6-6-1 on the road; Flyers - 13-3-2-3 at home.