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Biron carrying Flyers to new heights

by John Kreiser /

The Philadelphia Flyers are back on top of the Atlantic Division, and goaltender Martin Biron is a big reason why.

The Flyers landed Biron from Buffalo last February after deciding that they needed an upgrade in goal. He played well on a bad team during the final weeks of the season, and has been superb this season, helping the Flyers win four of their first five games to take the top spot in their division.

Biron has played every minute in the Flyers’ five games, allowing just nine goals. He’s been even better in the past week, winning all three of his starts while allowing just three goals – including Tuesday night’s 4-0 shutout of the Atlanta Thrashers.

That 31-save effort was his first shutout as a Flyer. He’s stopped 60 of the last 61 shots he’s faced, a big reason that the Flyers have rebounded after the worst season in franchise history.

Five up: Five players who’ve been hot:

Henrik Zetterberg He’s had 39 and 33 goals in his last two seasons, but Zetterberg is taking his game to a new level this season. The just-turned-27-year-old Swede is the NHL’s scoring leader with 13 points after seven games, with at least one point in each game. Last season, it took him 23 games to reach 13 points.

Vaclav Prospal Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella has been searching for scoring from players other than his big guns – Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards. Prospal has answered the call by scoring five times in the Lightning’s first four games. That’s a big improvement over last season, when he had just 14 goals in 82 games.

Cam Ward Lighter is better as far as the 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy winner is concerned. Ward came into camp this year minus a few pounds – and has looked like the goaltender who carried Carolina to the Stanley Cup in 2006. He allowed just five goals as the Hurricanes swept their three-game swing through eastern Canada.

Niklas Hagman Dallas needs all the offense it can find, and coach Dave Tippett has to be happy with the five goals and seven points he’s received from Hagman in the Stars’ first six games. It’s a big jump for a player who had just 17 goals and 29 assists last season.

Brian Campbell The Buffalo Sabres are on a scoring tear, and Campbell’s play on the blue line is a big reason why. Campbell had eight assists and nine points in the Sabres’ first five games, including four assists in Saturday’s 7-3 rout of Washington.

Five down: Five players who’ve been struggling:

Brendan Shanahan No goals, one assists and a league-high (with Toronto’s Jason Blake) 32 shots on goal. The New York Rangers need a lot more than that from Shanahan, a 600-goal scorer who has yet to find the range.

Jarret Stoll Maybe it’s an after-effect from the concussion that ended his 2006-07 season early, but Stoll hasn’t helped the Edmonton Oilers at all. He has just one assist in six games and is minus-6 in five games. Saturday’s loss to Vancouver marked the first game in which he had a point and wasn’t a minus player.

Valtteri Filppula Detroit is counting on the 23-year-old center to provide offense from the second line. So far, Filppula hasn’t delivered: He has no points in seven games and is seeing his ice time diminish as coach Mike Babcock searches for scoring.

Michel Ouellet Tampa Bay signed the 25-year-old left wing away from Pittsburgh after a 19-goal season in 2006-07. So far, Ouellet’s scoring touch hasn’t made the trip: He has just one assist in the Lightning’s first four games.

Jonathan Bernier The 19-year-old goalie is back in juniors after struggling with the Los Angeles Kings. After winning his NHL debut by beating Anaheim in London, he’s struggled in his return to North America, losing three straight games while allowing 15 goals on just 91 shots. With the Kings struggling, management saw no need for their future starter to be subjected to a barrage of shots.

Injuries, news and notes – The Anaheim Ducks still can’t get healthy. Goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere (sports hernia) returned Sunday, the same night forward Todd Bertuzzi went down with a concussion. He’s on IR. Defenseman Mathieu Schneider (broken ankle in preseason) is still a week or two away. … Washington is still missing Alexander Semin; the 38-goal scorer of last season is still plagued by an ankle injury. … Carolina hopes to get defenseman Mike Commodore (oblique) and forward Andrew Ladd (ankle) back this weekend. … The struggling Atlanta Thrashers got some good news Tuesday when high-scoring forward Marian Hossa returned to the lineup. He had been sidelined for three games with a groin strain. … Martin Havlat, Chicago’s top scorer last season, is still idled with a shoulder injury he sustained on opening night. Another Blackhawk forward, Rene Bourque, is expected to miss a week or so with a groin strain. … Forward Jon Sim, one of the New York Islanders’ free-agent acquisitions, is likely done for the season and will need reconstructive surgery on his left knee after being injured in the Isles’ second game. But center Shawn Bates, who underwent abdominal surgery last March, could be back in the Isles’ lineup within the week. He’s been skating. … Vancouver defenseman Sami Salo has had the cast taken off his broken left wrist and could be back within a week or so. Vancouver forward Jeff Cowan injured a hip flexor in Saturday’s game against Edmonton and could miss a couple of games. … Ottawa signed veteran center Randy Robitaille, who had been playing in Russia after finishing last season with the Islanders.

The week ahead –The Boston Bruins finally play their home opener Thursday night when Tampa Bay comes to town, followed by the Rangers on Saturday. The Bruins went 3-2-0 on their season-opening trip through the Pacific Division. … The Rangers begin a three-game trip Thursday night in Atlanta against the winless Thrashers. … The Islanders are at Washington on Thursday, home to New Jersey on Saturday, then get a week off before their next game, also at home. They don’t leave the Nassau Coliseum until Nov. 12. … New Jersey plays Games 6, 7 and 8 of its nine-game season-opening trip, visiting Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Long Island. … Like the Islanders, Ottawa plays Thursday and Saturday, then has a week off. The Senators are New Jersey’s opponent when the Prudential Center opens on Oct. 27. … Buffalo hosts Columbus on Friday before beginning a five-game trip Saturday night in Montreal. … San Jose has home games Thursday (Nashville) and Saturday (Detroit), then heads out for its second four-game trip this month. … Carolina completes a six-game trip with visits to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh before going home for three games. … Colorado starts a four-game trip Friday night in Chicago. … Minnesota finishes a four-game trip Saturday in St. Louis, hosts Colorado on Sunday, then goes back on the road for three more games. … Calgary completed a four-game road trip in Colorado on Wednesday and now goes home for its next seven games, playing every other night through next Friday. … Philadelphia completes a four-game homestand on Saturday, then heads out of town for seven in a row.

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