Flyers Forwards Enjoying Open Ice
Wednesday, 11.02.2005 / 12:00 AM / News
Voorhees, NJ – After a weekend which saw the Flyers score five goals against Dominik Hasek and the Ottawa Senators on Sunday and surrender eight goals to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday, it has become fairly obvious that this year's NHL is higher scoring, more open and to a majority of fans, more exciting.
That excitement is also evident in the players in the Flyers' locker room – more specifically, the forwards.
"You look at the neutral zone, and there are definitely more plays you can make in the neutral zone," said Peter Forsberg, who leads the league in assists with 17. "Guys are flying through there and not getting held from behind or held up or anything. There are definitely more scoring chances and there is more open ice than before.
"If you look at the game in the 80's, it was back and forth all the time. The goalies are a little better now than they were before, but the game is going back in that direction. I think it's good. I have always said that."
Michal Handzus, who has been a top defensive forward for the Flyers since being acquired by the club, is also enjoying the more wide-open style of play. Handzus, a long-time center, has since been moved to the wing while rookie Mike Richards has been in the middle. He is fourth on the team in scoring with three goals and eight assists for 11 points.
"I think for the fans, it's a really exciting game," said Handzus. "The game is better. Sometimes it gets to be too much on special teams and hurts the flow of the game, but if there aren't too many power plays or penalty kills it's a really exciting game.
"I think as long as we stay on the same page and know what is called and what is not, then everybody is going to adjust."
Homestand Begins Thursday With Ovechkin and Capitals
The longest homestand of the season for Philadelphia begins on Thursday night at the Wachovia Center, when the Washington Capitals and rookie sensation Alexander Ovechkin are in town.
The Capitals have relied heavily on Ovechkin for his offense and he has been up to the task, as he leads the team in scoring with eight goals and five assists for 13 points. That total also makes him the second highest scoring rookie in the league behind only Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby (15 points).
Ken Hitchcock does not have a specific defensive pairing to use on Ovechkin, but will stress to the team that they will have to be careful with the puck when the Russian forward is on the ice.
"He's a unique player in that if he's even with you, you're in trouble," said Hitchcock. "You have to keep him in front of you as much as possible. If he's even with you on the attack, you know he's going to get a quality scoring chance. I think the biggest challenge for us is that when he is on the ice we have to keep the risk as low as we can with the puck. If we play a high risk game, he's going to end up with breakaways and two-on-ones."
"The thing I've really noticed with him is his shiftiness, and he seems to really have incredible lateral movement," said Chris Therien. "He's very fast. I've only seen him once, but I've watched a couple of the games, too, and some of the stuff he's doing is impressive."
While Ovechkin has been at the forefront of rookies making an impact on the league so far this season, Hitchcock feels that one of his own rookies is having just as much of a positive force on the Flyers.
"You have exceptional scoring players, and you have complete players. For me, Mike Richards is a complete player," said Hitchcock. "He kills penalties, we're down two men, and he's out on the ice. This is a first year player that I think a lot of people take for granted. He's not just a scoring player and I think that's the difference. In a lot of cases, the Calder Trophy, for the NHL's top rookie] goes to a scoring player, but Mike has as much impact on the outcome of the game as any first year player in the league right now."
Defenseman Kim Johnsson, who left Sunday's game in Ottawa and did not return due to a left groin strain, did not practice on Wednesday and is questionable for Thursday's game. … Handzus, Robert Esche, Brian Savage, who all sat out Tuesday's practice with minor aches and pains, were all back for Wednesday's skate and will play on Thursday. … R.J. Umberger was recalled again on Wednesday and will be in the lineup on Thursday. Umberger made his NHL debut on Sunday.