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Flyers-Penguins Preview @NHLdotcom
Flyers-Penguins Preview

GAME: Philadelphia Flyers (28-11-8) at Pittsburgh Penguins (11-27-9).

TIME: Saturday, 2 p.m. EST.

Maybe a new face, and the return of two familiar ones, can provide the spark the Philadelphia Flyers need.

Going back on the road might help, too.

Coming off three consecutive home losses, the Flyers may see Petr Nedved make his debut while getting Robert Esche and Joni Pitkanen back in the lineup as they begin a home-and-home set with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Philadelphia acquired Nedved from Phoenix on Friday for defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. Nedved, a 14-year veteran center with 691 career points, was benched early in his first season with the Coyotes and has just 11 points in 25 games.

"I am coming to one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, so I am very excited to play for the Flyers," Nedved said. "This year has been kind of frustrating as far as offensive production, so hopefully I can help Philadelphia and start producing offensively."

The Flyers completed one of the most impressive road trips in league history with an 8-2-1 mark before returning home last Saturday only to lose 4-3 in overtime to Colorado.

Playing at the Wachovia Center continued to be unfavorable this week.

Following a 4-3 shootout loss to Carolina on Tuesday, Philadelphia was defeated by the last-place team in the Northeast Division on Thursday, falling 5-2 to Boston.

"We need to get back to what we were doing good," said Simon Gagne, who scored his team-leading 32nd goal Thursday. "We need to figure out what we're doing wrong."

Having Esche back in net could help. He had won three straight starts before aggravating a groin injury on Dec. 15.

Backup Antero Niittymaki may have begun to tire, having started the last 17 games. He has allowed 19 goals during Philadelphia's current four-game losing streak.

"I'm very excited but I don't want to get too excited, too up," Esche said. "As soon as you start trying to get pumped up because you haven't been playing for a while, you end diving for a puck that someone holds onto and puts it into an empty net."

Pitkanen also has been cleared to play against Pittsburgh. He has been sidelined since Dec. 6 after abdominal surgery for a sports hernia.

Peter Forsberg, among the league leaders with 60 points, will miss his second straight game with an abdominal strain. The Flyers also remain without captain Keith Primeau (concussion) and defenseman Eric Desjardins (shoulder).

"It's the nature of our season," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We're in first place in one category. We lead the league in the unfortunate category of injuries."

The Flyers also lead the Atlantic Division, 33 points ahead of the last-place Penguins.

Pittsburgh has lost eight straight, one shy of its nine-game skid to open the season.

Coach Michel Therrien, who took over for the fired Ed Olczyk on Dec. 15, tried to focus on some positive signs from Thursday's 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers.

"We played a really good game. We didn't give up many chances and we killed a 5-on-3," Therrien said. "We've had a lot of adversity, but we're learning."

Sidney Crosby scored for the second straight game after being held without a goal in the previous six. He has six goals and three assists in four meetings with the Flyers this season, including losses in both matchups at Pittsburgh.

The Flyers have five wins and two ties in their last seven visits to Pittsburgh since a 7-2 loss on Nov. 27, 2002. These teams also meet in Philadelphia on Monday.

STANDINGS: Flyers - 64 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division. Penguins - 31 points, 5th place, 33 PB, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Flyers - Gagne, 32 goals; Forsberg, 45 assists and 60 points; Donald Brashear, 57 PIM. Penguins - Crosby, 23 goals, 30 assists, 53 points and 72 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Jan. 19): Flyers - Power play: 18.4 percent (52 for 282), 13th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79.7 percent (216 for 271), 25th. Penguins - Power play: 17.6 percent (52 for 295), 15th. Penalty killing: 78.5 percent (244 for 311), 29th.

GOALTENDERS: Flyers - Esche (11-4-2, 3.14 GAA); Niittymaki (17-7-6, 2 SO, 2.85). Penguins - Marc-Andre Fleury (5-14-3, 3.23); Sebastien Caron (5-3-3, 4.18).

SEASON SERIES: Flyers, 3-1.

LAST MEETING: Dec. 23; Flyers, 5-4. At Pittsburgh, Mike Knuble and Forsberg scored late goals to rally the Flyers after they blew a three-goal lead. Crosby scored twice for the Penguins.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Flyers - 15-5-3 on the road; Penguins - 6-13-5 at home.

Associated Press

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