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Flyers-Blue Jackets Preview @NHLdotcom
Flyers-Blue Jackets Preview

GAME: Philadelphia Flyers (17-7-4) at Columbus Blue Jackets (9-20-0).

TIME: Tuesday, 7 p.m. EST.

Despite a rash of injuries, the Philadelphia Flyers have been playing some of their best hockey.

Philadelphia looks for its fifth win in seven games and is expected to have starting goaltender Robert Esche back when they meet the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Esche had won two straight before being sidelined Nov. 30 with a groin injury.

"(We want him to) just keep going the way he was the last two games," Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said. "The way he played the last two games was terrific, and hopefully he looks the same in goal before he got hurt. Hopefully, he can continue at that pace."

Esche has appeared in one game against the Blue Jackets while a member of the Phoenix Coyotes. He finished with 31 saves in a 3-2 win on Jan. 26, 2002.

Peter Forsberg, who missed six games with a groin strain, returned to tally a goal and an assist in the Flyers' 3-2 win Saturday over the Minnesota Wild.

That game was also the first for Philadelphia without team scoring leader Simon Gagne, expected to miss two weeks with a groin tear. Gagne had 23 goals and 14 assists in 27 games.

Gagne, who is tied with Jaromir Jagr of the New York Rangers for most goals this season, is the latest member of the Flyers to be injured. Philadelphia also will be without defensemen Eric Desjardins (shoulder) and Joni Pitkanen (abdominal muscle) and forwards Keith Primeau (concussion), Brian Savage (knee) and Turner Stevenson (hip).

After a season-high, seven-game losing streak from Nov. 11-25, the Blue Jackets have won four of six. Defenseman Bryan Berard scored with just under 14 seconds to play in overtime Sunday and Columbus beat the New Jersey Devils 3-2.

The Blue Jackets are 2-0 in overtime games and 3-0 in shootouts this season, the only team to not have lost in an extra sesssion this season.

"I thought this was our best all-around game of the year," said Blue Jackets coach Gerard Gallant.

The Blue Jackets have not won consecutive games since Oct. 26-28 over the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild.

Columbus is averaging just 1.86 goals per game while giving up 3.55, both among the league's worst.

STANDINGS (through Dec. 12): Flyers - 38 points, 2nd place, 6 PB, Atlantic Division. Blue Jackets - 18 points, 4th place, 26 PB, Central Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Flyers - Gagne, 23 goals; Forsberg, 32 assists and 41 points; Donald Brashear, 41 PIM. Blue Jackets - Nikolai Zherdev, 8 goals; David Vyborny, Berard, 13 assists; Vyborny and Berard, 19 points; Jody Shelley, 63 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 12): Flyers - Power play: 19.1 percent (35 for 183), 9th in NHL. Penalty killing: 77.5 percent (135 for 174), 30th. Blue Jackets - Power play: 12.1 percent (20 for 165), 30th. Penalty killing: 81.9 percent (168 for 205), 18th.

GOALTENDERS: Flyers - Esche (10-4-2, 3.18 GAA); Antero Niittymaki (7-3-2, 1 SO, 2.94). Blue Jackets - Marc Denis (4-11-0, 3.28); Martin Prusek (3-3-0, 3.22).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Tied, 0-0-1.

LAST MEETING: Dec. 10, 2003; Tied, 1-1. At Columbus, Ohio, Manny Malhotra scored a first-period goal for the Blue Jackets and Sami Kapanen tied it up for the Flyers in the third.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Flyers - 5-3-2 on the road; Blue Jackets - 6-8-0 at home.

Associated Press
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