Flyers find delicate balance


The Flyers have rotated Jeff Hackett and Robert Esche successfully and have been one of the best teams in both ends of the rink from Day One. Coach Ken Hitchcock said before the first puck dropped that he wouldn't make a decision on a main goalie until later in the season because he wants to give Esche a chance to mature and learn to handle the day-to-day activities and pressures of being the top goalie.

The Flyers' goalie rotation was a frequent topic of conversation early in the season, but had since died down -- until an Ottawa reporter asked Hitch how he's managed to keep two goalies happy. Hitch caught a few in Philly off guard when he said he felt the need to have a meeting with both goalies three weeks ago to clarify the game plan when he sensed they were unhappy with their playing time.

Hitch's message: The team is more important, so check your ego at the door.

"They didn't come to me," Hitchcock said. "It was body language. You can tell. Body language tells you everything. I just felt the focus wasn't right. The focus is right now. ... We're asking everyone to kind of check it back. We're asking for quality over quantity and everybody had to make those sacrifices and these guys have done that now. And they're happy."

Though Hackett is the veteran, injuries have limited his workload over the past three seasons. It's likely one of the reasons Hitch is closely monitoring the schedule and making sure both goalies get the chance to work with goalie coach Reggie Lemelin between starts to keep sharp.

Thought the Flyers had their 12-game unbeaten streak snapped in a 4-1 loss at Ottawa on Monday night, Hackett said it's difficult to object to a decision when the team is winning. He also added that there is going to be a point where the rotation will stop; whether that's 40, 50 or 70 games, it's going to have to change before the playoffs.

  • In Tampa Bay, John Tortorella has managed to keep both Nikolai Khabibulin and John Grahame sharp my maintaining a healthy competition on a day-to-day basis.

    Both goalies get along fine; they sit beside each other on the team plane, talk about game situations together and basically push each other in a good, healthy way. While Khabibulin is the horse that will get them to the promised land, Grahame's overall game has greatly improved and has turned the pair of goalies into one of the NHL's best tandems. Grahame, by the way will get World Cup consideration from Team USA.

  • In Calgary, Roman Turek will be back on the ice but won't face pucks, as his rehab from MCL surgery on his right knee continues. He is still a month away from returning.

  • Ottawa's Martin Prusek may have prolonged his career as Patrick Lalime's backup another day after playing well in Monday's 4-1 win over the Flyers. He was strong, especially in the first period. The Sens have a strong prospect in Ray Emory, who is playing in Binghamton of the AHL and is knocking on Prusek's door.

    The top five for this week:

    Darren Pang, a former goaltender with the Chicago Blackhawks, is a hockey analyst for ESPN. His goalie rankings appear every other week in Net Effect.