GAME: Philadelphia Flyers (33-16-9) at New Jersey Devils (30-22-6).
TIME: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. EST.
The Philadelphia Flyers look to rebound from a stretch of poor play, while the New Jersey Devils hope to continue their recent surge when the teams return to the ice following the Olympic break.
Philadelphia slumped before the two-week layoff, going 3-5-1 to fall three points behind the New York Rangers for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. Two of the losses came by scores of 6-0 to Tampa Bay on Jan. 28 and 5-0 at Montreal on Feb. 5. In between those defeats was a 4-3 overtime loss to the Rangers, allowing New York to take over first place.
While the Flyers had plenty of time off to rest and recuperate, their injury problems have gotten worse.
Center Keith Primeau announced Tuesday he will sit out the season to recover from post-concussion symptoms, the result of a hit by Montreal's Alexander Perezhogin four months ago. The Flyers will also be without Simon Gagne, their leading scorer, for as long as two weeks after he suffered a bone bruise during Canada's quarterfinal loss to Russia on Saturday.
The Flyers will have center Peter Forsberg back in the lineup after he missed the last five games before the break and seven of the previous nine with a groin injury. Forsberg played for the gold-medal winning Swedish team and recorded six assists in six games. He will be returning from celebrating the victory in Sweden on Monday in his homeland.
Coach Ken Hitchcock said Robert Esche will be in goal against the Devils, putting to rest any question of whether rookie Antero Niittymaki would be given a shot at becoming the No. 1 goalie.
Niittymaki played well when Esche missed five weeks with a groin injury in late December and early January, and was outstanding for Finland during the Olympics, posting three shutouts and a 1.34 goals-against average to help lead the Finns to the silver medal.
"Let's see how he looks when he comes back over here. This is a different game over here," Hitchcock said of Niittymaki. "He's an up-and-coming goaltender. He's a first-year player and the thing I value most is that this is just another notch of experience to help him become better."
New Jersey has gone 14-4-1 in 2006 to climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff race, a stretch that moved the Devils into seventh place and has them pushing Tampa Bay for sixth. New Jersey won its first eight home games during that span before falling 2-1 to the New York Islanders on Feb. 11.
"We didn't play the way we've been playing, but give them credit," Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said. "They played well. They didn't take bad penalties."
New Jersey resumes play knowing that team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello will coach the team for the rest of the season. Lamoriello, also the team's president and general manager, informed players of his decision last Wednesday.
Lamoriello replaced the fired Larry Robinson on Dec. 19 and has gone 16-9-1.
Brian Gionta has powered the Devils offensively in 2006 with 12 goals in the 19 games. Patrik Elias and Scott Gomez have a team-high 21 points during that span.
Brodeur has also played a major role in the turnaround. He went 14-14-3 with a 2.95 GAA before the new year, but has played every game in 2006 and posted a 1.92 GAA and five shutouts.
STANDINGS: Flyers - 75 points, 2nd place, 3 PB, Atlantic Division. Devils - 66 points, 3rd place, 12 PB, Atlantic Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Flyers - Gagne, 37 goals and 63 points; Forsberg, 47 assists; Donald Brashear, 75 PIM. Devils - Gionta, 33 goals and 56 points; Gomez, 34 assists; Colin White, 59 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Flyers - Power play: 18.0 percent (61 for 338), 14th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79.4 percent (266 for 335), 25th. Devils - Power play: 17.3 percent (57 for 329), 20th. Penalty killing: 82.0 percent (209 for 255), 16th.
GOALTENDERS: Flyers - Esche (15-6-3, 3.15 GAA); Niittymaki (18-10-6, 2 SO, 2.95). Devils - Brodeur (28-18-4, 5, 2.55); Scott Clemmensen (2-4-2, 3.83).
SEASON SERIES: Flyers, 2-1.
LAST MEETING: Jan. 9; Devils, 3-0. At East Rutherford, N.J., Brodeur made 22 saves and Zach Parise, Jamie Langenbrunner and Gomez scored for the Devils. Gagne and Forsberg were held without a point for the second straight time by New Jersey.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Flyers - 17-8-3 on the road; Devils - 18-8-3 at home.