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Flyers begin home stretch against reeling Wild

by Adam Kimelman
WILD (22-16-7) at FLYERS (26-13-4)


Last 10:
Minnesota 2-6-2; Philadelphia 5-5-0

Season series: This is the only meeting between the teams this season. In their only meeting last season, Nov. 24, 2010, Danny Briere had a goal and an assist and Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 15 of 16 shots in a 6-1 Philadelphia win in Minnesota.

Big Story:
How will the skidding Wild cope without their captain?

Team Scope:

Wild: As if Minnesota wasn't struggling enough, with just two wins in its last 15 games (2-10-3), they'll now be without All-Star center and team captain Mikko Koivu due to an upper-body injury suffered during Sunday's game against the St. Louis Blues.

Wild coach Mike Yeo termed Koivu as week-to-week with the injury. However, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune is reporting the injury, to Koivu's left shoulder, could sideline him for up to a month.

"It's pretty frustrating right now," Koivu told reporters on Monday. "Especially the time of the year. We play a lot of games and we're right in the middle of it. … But there's nothing you can do about it, and you just got to move on and try and get better."

The injury will keep Koivu out of what would have been his first NHL All-Star Game.

Yeo said the team will call up a forward from AHL Houston, likely Carson McMillian, but the coach said no one could replace Koivu.

"It'd be foolish of us to try and get anybody to be him," Yeo said. "It's a big challenge for us and we have to view it as such, and get excited about the opportunity to rise to it. A lot of people are probably writing us off right now … but the one thing I know is this team has a lot of character, and we need a lot of that right now."

With nine of their next 12 games at Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers find themselves in a bit of an odd position -- playing a stretch of games at home.

They've played consecutive home games just twice since early November, but one of them was the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. This current home stretch ends a string of 20 of 29 games on the road, dating to Nov. 9.

"When you're in and out, you're on the road for four or five games, you come in for one, you're on the road for three, you come in for one, it's a little tougher to adapt," center Danny Briere told "In the second half, the chance that we have to play more home games I'm hoping is going to play into our favor and we can get at little run going at home."

The Flyers are just 10-6-2 at home, and the 10 wins are tied for the fewest in the Eastern Conference. But with a stretch of home games coming up, the Flyers know they have a chance to make up some ground on the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers.

"These games are huge," forward Scott Hartnell said. "Obviously we love playing at Wells Fargo Center and we've got to get our confidence up here at home. Play hard, play Flyers hockey. It starts (Tuesday)."

Who's Hot:
Flyers rookie forward Sean Couturier has goals in four straight games. … The Wild haven't scored much recently, but center Matt Cullen, who last week played his 1,000th NHL game, has 4 points in his last six games. In 40 career games against the Flyers, he has 11 goals and 25 points.

Injury Report:
In addition to Koivu, Wild forwards Guillaume Latendresse, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Jarrod Palmer are out with concussions. Goalie Niklas Backstrom, who had been questionable with an illness, was deemed healthy by Yeo on Monday. … Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk is out indefinitely with a concussion.

Stat Pack:
The Flyers have been carried by their top line of Claude Giroux, Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr, but recently that trio hasn't been contributing. In their last four games, they have a combined 1 goal and 2 assists. The Flyers are just 2-2-0 in that span.

Puck Drop:
With Koivu and Dallas' Jamie Benn (appendectomy) likely to miss the 2012 Tim Hortons All-Star Game, that opens a spot potentially for Hartnell. Despite his recent slide, the Flyers forward has a team-high 19 goals, is second with 38 points and his plus-17 is the best number on the team.

His numbers this season make him an appealing candidate, and with him on pace for the best offensive output of his 11-season NHL career, a trip to Ottawa at the end of the month would be a nice reward.

However, Hartnell said he's not sitting by the phone waiting for a call.

"I'm not too worried about it," he said following Monday's practice. "I haven't made any plans. I've just got to worry about playing better. Our last few games, our line hasn't been good. We've been slow to pucks, things like that. It's showing on the score sheet. We haven't had many points the last four or five games. We've got to pick it up."

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