Just because they're off to an outstanding start on their lengthy road swing doesn't mean the Philadelphia Flyers aren't still looking to get better.
Likely to have a new face on their top line, the Flyers look to continue their impressive play away from home ice when they meet the New York Rangers in a matchup of the Atlantic Division's top teams.
With a 5-0-1 record on its 11-game road trip, Philadelphia has built a six-point division lead over second-place New York.
Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock, though, is not standing pat.
At Wednesday's practice, he took right wing Mike Knuble off the top unit and replaced him with Jeff Carter. The rookie center now will play alongside scoring stars Peter Forsberg and Simon Gagne, who have been facing opponents' best checkers during the road trip.
In the last four games, Gagne has two goals, Forsberg one and Knuble none.
"We feel like we need a secondary push," Hitchcock said. "Our first line is getting buried at times, not even with forechecking, just waiting for them to come into the zone. As the season goes along, you just can't rely on outworking people."
Hitchcock won't say how long this latest configuration will last. He moved Knuble to a line with Michal Handzus and Sami Kapanen.
It was Carter who did the only scoring Monday, netting his fourth game-winner of the season in Philadelphia's 1-0 win over the Boston Bruins. Carter has a goal in two straight games after having only one in his previous 17.
Forsberg, among the league leaders with 40 assists, went without an assist for a second straight game for the first time this season.
He looks to get back on track when the Flyers make their first visit this season to Madison Square Garden.
"They are right on our heels in the division right now and every game we play against them is going to be big," Forsberg said. "I think it's exciting, though. For me, it's my first time playing for the Flyers up there at MSG."
New York has lost five of six at home against Philadelphia
The Rangers continued their December slump into the new year, dropping the first game of 2006 on Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, 1-0. While New York outshot Tampa Bay 36-20, it lost for the fifth time in six games decided in overtime.
"We had a couple of great opportunities to finish the game, but we didn't," goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
said. "I think we played a good game. Even in overtime, we kept going real strong."
New York has lost six of eight, a stretch during which leading scorer Jaromir Jagr has only two goals.
STANDINGS: Flyers - 56 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division. Rangers - 50 points, 2nd place, 6 PB, Atlantic Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Flyers - Gagne, 27 goals; Forsberg, 40 assists and 53 points; Knuble, 48 PIM. Rangers - Jagr, 25 goals, 36 assists and 61 points; Michal Rozsival, 50 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Jan. 3): Flyers - Power play: 17.9 percent (44 for 246), 13th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79.7 percent (188 for 236), 28th. Rangers - Power play: 16.7 percent (39 for 234), 19th. Penalty killing: 86.3 percent (221 for 256), 2nd.
GOALTENDERS: Flyers - Antero Niittymaki (14-4-4, 2 SO, 2.67 GAA); Robert Esche (11-4-2, 0, 3.14). Rangers - Henrik Lundqvist
(14-5-5, 1, 2.14); Kevin Weekes (8-7-1, 0, 2.98).
SEASON SERIES: Rangers, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Oct. 5, 2005; Rangers, 5-3. At Philadelphia, Jagr scored two power-play goals in the third period as the Rangers overcame a two-goal deficit with four straight goals.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Flyers - 12-3-3 on the road; Rangers - 11-5-3 at home.
- Associated Press