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Penguins-Flyers Preview @NHLdotcom
Penguins-Flyers Preview

GAME: Pittsburgh Penguins (11-28-9) at Philadelphia Flyers (29-11-8).

TIME: Monday, 7 p.m. EST.

Facing the worst team in the Eastern Conference helped get the Philadelphia Flyers back on track. They hope it has the same effect on their home ice.

The Flyers seek their first win at the Wachovia Center in a month as they close a home-and-home series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are looking to avoid their 10th consecutive loss.

The return of No. 1 goalie Robert Esche sparked Philadelphia to a 2-1 win in Pittsburgh on Saturday, ending a four-game losing streak. Esche stopped 32 shots after missing five weeks with a groin injury, getting his shutout bid spoiled by Penguins rookie Colby Armstrong's goal with 3:49 to play.

"My style is I'm not a guy who needs a whole lot of games," Esche said. "When I was a backup, I played one game a month or two games a month. You have to be ready. I learned to adjust to that."

With the Flyers planning to avoid starting Esche in back-to-back games for a while, Antero Niitymaki is likely to be back in net as Philadelphia goes for its first home win since beating Ottawa 4-3 on Dec. 22.

The Flyers followed that victory with an 8-2-1 road trip, then returned home only to lose three straight at the Wachovia Center.

Philadelphia expects leading scorer Peter Forsberg to return for this game after he sat out the last two with an abdominal muscle strain. Forsberg practiced Sunday for the first time since leaving after two periods in Tuesday's shootout loss to Carolina.

"I didn't feel too much out there and I'm not worried about it," said Forsberg, who missed six games with a groin injury earlier this season. "I wouldn't go out there and play if it wasn't 100 percent. I'm happy that it didn't take that long."

It's possible defensemen Joni Pitkanen and Kim Johnsson also will play. Pitkanen returned Saturday after missing 22 games following abdominal surgery for a sports hernia and left the game due to tightness, but was back at practice Sunday. Johnsson sat out Saturday's game due to concussion-like symptoms.

"We seem to add and then delete players all the time," Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said. "If feels really good to get players in. I just wish we could get everybody to stay in."

Pittsburgh wishes it could just get a win.

The Penguins are riding their second nine-game slide of the season - they opened 0-4-5 - and a loss Monday will give the team its worst losing streak since losing a franchise-record 18 straight (one in overtime) during the 2003-04 season.

Pittsburgh hasn't forced overtime once during the current nine-game skid and has been held to two goals or fewer in six of the last seven. Rookie Sidney Crosby and veteran Mark Recchi, the team's top goal scorers, each have just two goals each since the Penguins' last win.

"We're all competing, we're battling for each other. We're not getting too many breaks," Crosby said. "For us, we just have to continue to do this and stay with it.

"Everyone is pulling the same way right now, so eventually it's going to turn around."

The Pens have given up at least one power-play goal in all nine defeats, and Saturday's loss marked the sixth time during that span they've allowed at least two.

STANDINGS: Penguins - 31 points, 5th place, 35 PB, Atlantic Division. Flyers - 66 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division.

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

SPECIAL TEAMS: Penguins - Power play: 17.3 percent (52 for 301), 17th in NHL. Penalty killing: 78.2 percent (248 for 317), 30th. Flyers - Power play: 18.8 percent (54 for 288), 11th. Penalty killing: 80.1 percent (222 for 277), 23rd.

GOALTENDERS: Penguins - Marc-Andre Fleury (5-15-3, 0 SO, 3.18 GAA); Sebastien Caron (5-3-3, 0, 4.18). Flyers - Esche (12-4-2, 0, 3.03); Niittymaki (17-7-6, 2, 2.85).

SEASON SERIES: Flyers, 4-1.

LAST MEETING: Friday; Flyers, 2-1. At Pittsburgh, rookies R.J. Umberger and Jeff Carter scored power-play goals for Philadelphia and Petr Nedved had an assist in his Flyers' debut.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Penguins - 5-14-4 on the road; Flyers - 13-6-5 at home.

Associated Press

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