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Gagne getting game together at right time

by John McGourty
The Philadelphia Flyers came in for some criticism last week at the trading deadline when they made no deals to enhance the roster of the club sitting sixth in the Eastern Conference. But those critics overlooked four key factors.

First, Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren made two important deals just before the Olympic break to get defenseman Lukas Krajicek and forward Ville Leino, both upgrades.

When goalie Ray Emery was lost two weeks ago for the season due to a hip injury, Holmgren looked at a variety of deals and decided to stick with Michael Leighton, backed up by Brian Boucher. Leighton has his critics, but he's 14-3-2 for the Flyers and his 2.29 goals-against average with the Flyers would put him in sixth place among NHL goalies and his .920 save percentage would be ninth.

What Holmgren was hoping for most is the continued resurgence of left wing Simon Gagne, who led the Flyers in scoring in 2006 and 2007. This season, Gagne has 11 goals and 20 assists, but the numbers are deceiving. Gagne, who has had abdominal problems in the past, had only 1 goal and 4 assists through the first 10 games and then underwent two hernia surgeries. He missed 24 games before returning on Dec. 19. Since then, Gagne has 26 points in 36 games, 12 points in the past 12 games and six points in the past five games. He had the game-winning goal Sunday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"Everybody seems to be finding their game, including Simon," coach Peter Laviolette said. "Your goal scorers have to score. He's a natural goal scorer. That was a big goal that he scored for us (against Toronto).

"Simon has a role on this team. It's to put the puck in the back of the net, play some good two-way hockey, and bury some goals."

"I didn't want to miss any time at the beginning of the season. I needed that time," Gagne said. "It's where I get my game speed, my game savvy, my stickhandling, feeling good about my stick and stuff like that. Right after Christmas I started to feel good and now I'll have played four or five months before the playoffs.

"Having the surgery at the end of October and missing November and December, (was) two steps back. It's like missing training camp. As a player, I don't like that. Coming back, I didn't feel in great shape. I felt like I was missing a step. I felt slow trying to get to the puck and tired shooting the puck.

"But now it's starting to come. I've got my speed, not only in my skates, but with every aspect of my game. That's made a big difference and that's why I've started to score more."

Gagne ranks ninth in Flyers' scoring and said the team will need continued contributions from everyone if they hope to make noise in the postseason.

"You see the teams winning the Stanley Cup, you see it's coming from everybody," Gagne said. "If you look at Pittsburgh last year, Crosby and Malkin, you didn't see them do a lot in Game 7 and you saw different players scoring goals. You need so much balance to win some hockey games. When we have those matchups against the other teams, they're going to play their best defensemen against Jeff Carter's line. Some lines are going to struggle to score goals and that's why you need different lines with different guys scoring goals.

"I know what I have to do to help the team win. I have to play well defensively and I have to put the puck in the net once in awhile. I'll try to do that for the rest of the season and getting going in the playoffs."
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