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Capitals-Flyers Preview

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GAME: Washington Capitals (19-30-5) at Philadelphia Flyers (32-15-9).

TIME: Friday, 7 p.m. EST.

With veteran Peter Forsberg still sidelined, rookie Mike Richards is doing his part to keep the Philadelphia Flyers in the thick of the Atlantic Division race.

Luckily, Richards is not the only young skater the injury-plagued Flyers can call on as they host the slumping Washington Capitals.

Three rookie centers accounted for the offense as Philadelphia snapped its three-game losing streak with a 5-2 win Wednesday over the New York Islanders.

Richards, who turns 21 on Saturday, recorded his first multiple-goal game with a hat trick. R.J. Umberger and Jeff Carter each added goal and had an assist for the Flyers, who have eight first-year players.

"They responded and took the challenge," Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said of his young players.

Forsberg, who will miss his seventh straight game Friday, has missed 14 games this season because of nagging groin injuries. In his first season with the Flyers, the 10-year veteran has 15 goals and 47 assists for 62 points in 42 games.

He also plans to make a decision soon on whether he will represent Sweden in the Olympics.

"It's a hard decision," said Forsberg, who also missed the 2002 Olympics because of an injury. "I want to be there for my country, but I don't want to get injured again."

Philadelphia also played without leading scorer Simon Gagne (stomach virus), center Keith Primeau (concussion), defensemen Kim Johnsson (concussion symptoms), Mike Rathje (groin), and Chris Therien (head) and forwards Branko Radivojevic (ankle) and Petr Nedved (groin).

"We had a lot of key guys out of the lineup and everybody stepped up," Richards said.

The Flyers, who were outscored 13-5 during the losing streak, have won just five of their last 15 games after a 9-0-2 stretch and are one point behind the New York Rangers for the Atlantic Division lead.

For the second consecutive game, the Capitals suffered a 5-0 shutout, this time to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday. Washington, which has not scored a goal in 121 minutes, 47 seconds, were blanked Saturday by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It is the longest scoreless streak for the Capitals since a drought of 133 minutes, 11 seconds over three games from Oct. 26-Nov. 2, 2001.

"We just play how we can and we don't score," said Washington's Alexander Ovechkin, who came up empty on 10 shots. "Everybody is trying hard. ... We just play and we don't have luck."

Goaltender Olaf Kolzig had 35 saves for the Capitals, who have dropped six of their last eight after a four-game winning streak.

STANDINGS: Capitals - 43 points, 5th place, 37 PB, Southeast Division. Flyers - 73 points, 2nd place, 1 PB, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Capitals - Ovechkin, 34 goals, 32 assists and 66 points; Brendan Witt, 127 PIM. Flyers - Gagne, 35 goals; Forsberg, 47 assists and 62 points; Donald Brashear, 70 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Capitals - Power play: 13.8 percent (44 for 320), 29th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79.1 percent (292 for 369), 26th. Flyers - Power play: 17.8 percent (58 for 326), 17th. Penalty killing: 79.5 percent (256 for 322), 25th.

GOALTENDERS: Capitals - Kolzig (15-21-5, 0 SO, 3.42 GAA); Brent Johnson (4-8-0, 0, 4.09). Flyers - Antero Niittymaki (18-9-6, 2, 2.99); Robert Esche (14-6-3, 0, 3.06).

SEASON SERIES: Flyers, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 6; Flyers, 3-1. At Washington, Gagne and Forsberg each had a goal and an assist for Philadelphia, which extended its road-point streak to 14 games. Ovechkin scored the lone goal for Washington.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Capitals - 6-17-1 on the road; Flyers - 15-8-6 at home.

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