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Flyers-Islanders Preview @NHLdotcom

GAME: Philadelphia Flyers (33-17-10) at New York Islanders (26-28-4).

TIME: Saturday, 8 p.m. EST.

Quickly losing ground in the Atlantic Division, the Philadelphia Flyers hope to avoid a fourth straight loss when they meet the New York Islanders.

Philadelphia led the division for most of the first half of the season, but has won just five of its last 17 games to fall four points behind the first-place New York Rangers.

The Flyers were the victims of the Rangers' seventh straight win on Thursday, falling 6-1 at home. It was Philadelphia's third consecutive loss - second since the Olympic break - and sixth in eight games.

"Obviously, right now we're a fragile team," Flyers defenseman Derian Hatcher said. "I don't think there are any questions about it."

One of the most fragile areas may be in net. Robert Esche was expected to be the full-time starter this season, but Antero Niittymaki played well when Esche was injured earlier this season and was the tournament MVP of the Olympics after leading Finland to the silver medal.

One night after making 31 saves in a 2-1 shootout loss to New Jersey, Esche was pulled in the second period against the Rangers after allowing three goals on seven shots. Niittymaki wasn't much better, giving up three goals on 19 shots.

Coach Ken Hitchcock has tried to defuse the situation between his two Olympic goalies by calling the starting job a competition, not a controversy.

"I never like being pulled out," Esche said Wednesday. "It was the right decision. I know it's part of the game. You want to be there when things are great and when things are bad, I want to battle it out."

If Esche starts again, he'll likely go against the goalie which he backed up for the United States team in the Olympics.

Rick DiPietro had a 2.28 goals-against average in Turin as he appeared in four of six games for the U.S., but could not lead the team past the quarterfinal round.

He did lead the Islanders to victory in their second game following the Olympic break, making 26 saves and stopping both attempts he faced in the shootout in a 3-2 win over the Devils on Thursday.

New York's Alexei Zhitnik assisted on power-play goals in the second period by Brent Sopel and Jason Blake.

"If we could use that same recipe for other games, we'd be in good shape," DiPietro said.

The Islanders have won only once in their last seven home games against the Flyers, including a 4-3 defeat on Nov. 29 in the lone meeting at Nassau Coliseum this season.

Jeff Carter has helped Philadelphia win four of five meetings overall with two goals and six assists in the season series.

New York, which has split its last four games, looks to take advantage of a Philadelphia club which has lost four straight on the road and will be missing enforcer Donald Brashear. The 12-year veteran was suspended one game for instigating an altercation with Rangers defenseman Darius Kasparaitis in Thursday's loss.

STANDINGS: Flyers - 76 points, 2nd place, 4 PB, Atlantic Division. Islanders - 56 points, 4th place, 24 PB, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Flyers - Simon Gagne, 37 goals; Peter Forsberg, 48 assists; Gagne and Forsberg, 63 points; Brashear, 110 PIM. Islanders - Miroslav Satan, 26 goals; Mike York, 32 assists; Alexei Yashin, 48 points; Arron Asham, 99 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Flyers - Power play: 17.8 percent (62 for 349), 17th (tied) in NHL. Penalty killing: 78.8 percent (271 for 344), 26th. Islanders - Power play: 18.4 percent (61 for 331), 10th (tied). Penalty killing: 78.3 percent (281 for 359), 27th.

GOALTENDERS: Flyers - Esche (15-7-4, 3.12 GAA); Niittymaki (18-10-6, 2 SO, 2.99). Islanders - DiPietro (20-17-4, 3.37); Garth Snow (4-8-0, 3.60).

SEASON SERIES: Flyers, 4-1.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 8; Flyers, 5-2. At Philadelphia, Mike Richards had his first career hat trick and the Flyers won despite playing without Forsberg and Gagne.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Flyers - 17-8-4 on the road; Islanders - 13-14-2 at home.

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