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Senators-Flyers Preview

GAME: Ottawa Senators (23-5-3) at Philadelphia Flyers (19-8-5).

TIME: Thursday, 7 p.m. EST.

Slowly, the Philadelphia Flyers are getting healthy.

Philadelphia is expected to have left wing Simon Gagne back in the lineup when they play the Eastern Conference-leading Ottawa Senators.

Gagne, who is tied for second in the league in goals with Jaromir Jagr of the New York Rangers, missed five games with a groin injury that has bothered him since training camp.

"It's really tough to know when you're ready to go back with those kinds of injuries," said Gagne, who was named Wednesday to the Canadian Olympic team. "They're so deep inside. You feel good, but sometimes you need to make sure it's healed and it's ready to go."

Philadelphia, which recently welcomed back Peter Forsberg and U.S. Olympian Robert Esche back from injury, went 3-1-1 in Gagne's absence including a 2-1 shootout loss Monday to the Buffalo Sabres.

Hours after finding out he was named to the U.S. Olympic team, Mike Knuble scored the lone goal in regulation for Philadelphia, but was denied in the shootout.

"It was kind of a disaster toward the end of the game," Knuble said. "It was a bad way to end the night. Overall, it's a tremendous day. It's an honor today."

The Senators own the league's best record, but are trying to shake off their worst stretch of the season. After starting the season with 19 wins in 22 games, Ottawa is just 4-2-3 in its last nine including a 4-3 shootout loss Tuesday to the Montreal Canadiens.

Dominik Hasek - a lock to be named to the Czech Republic's Olympic squad - surrendered goals to Pierre Dagenais and Alexei Kovalev in the shootout en route to his second loss in four starts.

Even rookie netminder Ray Emery, who began his career with an NHL-record nine straight wins, has dropped consecutive decisions for the suddenly vulnerable Senators.

"Obviously it's disappointing," Ottawa center Mike Fisher said after Tuesday's loss. "We were rolling pretty good at the start of the game, playing pretty well. But we got into penalty trouble and they did a pretty good job and we just couldn't finish."

Spezza left the game in the second period with a pulled chest muscle. He remains questionable for Thursday.

"I don't think it's bad," Spezza said. "Right now it's sore, but we'll have a better idea (Thursday)."

STANDINGS: Senators - 49 points, 1st place, Northeast Division. Flyers - 43 points, 2nd place, 1 PB, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Senators - Daniel Alfredsson, 22 goals and 49 points; Spezza, 34 assists; Zdeno Chara, 88 PIM. Flyers - Gagne, 23 goals; Forsberg, 35 assists and 45 points; Joni Pitkanen, 42 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Senators - Power play: 23.1 percent (46 for 199), 2nd in NHL. Penalty killing: 86 percent (179 for 208), 4th. Flyers - Power play: 18.6 percent (38 for 204), 10th. Penalty killing: 78 percent (153 for 196), 29th.

GOALTENDERS: Senators - Hasek (17-4-2, 3 SO, 2.02 GAA); Emery (6-1-1, 1, 2.21). Flyers - Robert Esche (11-4-2, 0, 3.14); Antero Niittymaki (8-4-3, 1, 2.76).

SEASON SERIES: Flyers, 1-0.

LAST MEETING: Oct. 30; Flyers, 5-3. At Ottawa, Knuble scored twice as Philadelphia squandered an early lead before handing the Senators just their second loss in 11 games.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Senators - 10-2-3 on the road; Flyers - 12-5-3 at home.

Associated Press
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