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Hot play has Philadelphia Fly-ing up standings

by Brian Compton
A few thoughts before Thomas Vanek and Jeff Carter score again:

Here comes Philly -- Don't look now, but the Philadelphia Flyers are making their move in the Atlantic Division.

The Flyers erased a two-goal deficit and broke a 3-3 tie on a power-play goal by Simon Gagne with just under nine minutes left in a 4-3 victory against the New York Islanders at the Wachovia Center.

With the win, the Flyers -- who started the season 0-3-3 -- improved to 10-1-3 over their last 14 games and moved into a second-place tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Atlantic. Both teams are four points behind the first-place New York Rangers.

"The power play has been a staple all year, and it gets us that go-ahead goal which is great to see," said Flyers coach John Stevens, whose club entered the game with the fourth-best unit in the NHL.

"The power play has been a staple all year, and it gets us that go-ahead goal which is great to see." -- Flyers coach John Stevens

Hard to believe this is the same Philadelphia team that started so poorly. With five of their next seven games before Christmas on home ice, the Flyers have an opportunity to overthrow the Rangers atop the division standings. The Flyers -- 5-0-2 in their last seven in the City of Brotherly Love -- host the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday.

''There are so many teams above you, around you, below you, I think we have to tackle each game as it comes,'' Stevens said. ''We were trying to get into that top eight (in the Eastern Conference), and now we are trying to climb as far as we can and take advantage of these games at home.''

Barry unhappy -- Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz was more angry after Tuesday night's 3-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks than Clark Griswold upon his arrival at an empty Wally World.

Trotz was displeased with the Canucks' physical style, and said he counted three dangerous head shots.

''The League will handle it,'' Trotz said. ''I'm trying to protect my players. There's two things that's unwritten -- don't go after the head, and you don't go after the knees. I think in the hockey code, I think they crossed the line a few times.''

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault disagreed.

''The only thing I found special with calls in the game we were not allowed to hit them," said Vigneault, whose team has won two of three after starting a seven-game road trip with three straight losses. "Every time we threw a good strong clean hit, there was a scrum after. It is part of the game. It was a physical game. They took offense to some of the hits we threw.''

Jason Arnott took exception to a hit on teammate J.P. Dumont that was thrown by Vancouver's Alex Burrows during the second period. Arnott went after Burrows and was given an instigator penalty, a fighting major and a game misconduct. Burrows wasn't penalized, but Vancouver defenseman Shane O'Brien was given a game misconduct. However, the Canucks wound up with the man advantage for seven minutes.

''I knew he left his feet," said Arnott. "You see it on the replay, and he lands after he hits J.P. It's a blatant call, and there's two guys out there. I don't know how they didn't see that. Then the guy runs Webby (Shea Weber) from behind. He didn't need to hit Webby like that, from behind, run his head into the glass.''

Burrows pleaded his innocence.

''I don't want to injure the guy," he said. "I know the guy. We work out together in the summer. That is the last thing I want to do.''

The teams will meet again on New Year's Day in Nashville.

All hands on deck -- The Colorado Avalanche know they need everyone to chip in offensively in the absence of captain Joe Sakic, and they received help from some unusual sources against Los Angeles.

Cody McLeod scored twice and rookie Chris Stewart added his first NHL goal as the Avs pummeled the Kings 6-1 at the Pepsi Center. Colorado is now 3-0 against the Kings squad this season.

"We need everyone," Avs forward Ian Laperriere said. "Everyone has to chip in. Look around the League -- successful teams don't just have one line; it's four lines. We wanted a better start, and we got that tonight. A good start like that builds momentum."

And offensive contributions build confidence, which most likely grew for players such as McLeod and Stewart. The latter was overwhelmed by his first goal and forgot to collect the puck. Luckily, Laperriere was there to grab it for him.

"I was so excited," Stewart said. "I didn't know whether to celebrate, but I did because you only get one first goal."

Earning his keep -- With Mats Sundin rumors still floating around, Montreal Canadiens center Robert Lang knows he must produce in order to stay with the club.

The Habs forward did just that, as he had 2 goals and an assist in Montreal's 4-1 win against the Calgary Flames at the Bell Centre. The Canadiens acquired Lang prior to the start of training camp from the Chicago Blackhawks after being unable to convince Sundin to sign with them during the summer.

"It's up to what management says, but I'm happy here," said Lang, who now has 10 goals this season.

Lang flourished on a line with Alexei Kovalev, as both players enjoyed multi-point nights. The move was made by Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau, who was hesitant to break up the line of Kovalev, Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec.

"It was a good, fun game.  Everybody played well. You need a game like that once in a while." -- Robert Lang
Kovalev, though, has gone 17 games without a goal. He and Lang skated together during their time with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the late 1990s. Alex Tanguay rounded out the line and also had 2 assists in the victory.

"It was a good, fun game," said Lang, whose ninth and 10th goals gave him the team lead. "Everybody played well. You need a game like that once in a while."

Is the magic between Lang and Kovalev back?

''I don't know, but the result was there,'' Lang said.

Contact Brian Compton at:

Material from wire services and team media was used in this report. 

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