Flyers find delicate balance

Tomas Vokoun tops this week's ranking for keeping the Predators in the playoff hunt.

Updated: December 3, 2003, 2:39 PM ET
By Darren Pang | Special to ESPN.com

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:

    THIS WEEK'S RANKINGS

    5. Manny Legace, Detroit Red Wings

    Manny Legace
    4 GP, 3-0-0, 0.79 GAA, .962 save percentage
    He has done a great job while Dominik Hasek is out with a bad groin. Legace replaced Curtis Joseph in the 4-1 loss at home to Washington and gave up just one goal. Then, after beating Edmonton 7-1, he made 30 saves and was named the game's third star in a 6-0 win over the Islanders, his fourth career shutout. The next night, he won a tight 2-1 contest in St. Louis, making 21 saves and earning the second star as the Red Wings took over first place in the Central Division.

    4. Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils


    Martin Brodeur
    5 GP, 2-1-2, 1.36 GAA, .945 save percentage
    The Devils went on a tough West Coast journey and came away from it unscathed, thanks to Brodeur's brilliance. He began the five-game segment by beating Pittsburgh 2-1 at home. Then, it was off to L.A., where he beat the Kings 4-0 (25 saves, second star). The next night at Anaheim, in a Stanley Cup finals rematch, he made 33 saves in a 3-3 tie with the Ducks. Two nights later, Marty Turco and the Stars got the better of him in a 2-0 shutout. The trip ended in Colorado where he made 25 saves in the 1-1 tie and was selected as the third star.

    3. Ed Belfour, Toronto Maple Leafs


    Ed Belfour
    5 GP, 5-0-0, 2.01 GAA, .928 save percentage
    The Leafs had a tough trip as well. After going 0-2-2-1, the Leafs ended their six-game trip with a 5-3 victory at Vancouver, where Belfour made 25 saves and was selected the game's second star. Belfour won the back end of the home-and-home 2-1, with 24 saves in a third-star performance. He was the first star in a 3-1 win at Atlanta (31 saves) before returning home to beat Ottawa 2-1 (24 saves) in what has become a heated rivalry between the two Ontario teams.

    2. Vesa Toskala, San Jose Sharks


    Vesa Toskala
    5 GP, 4-0-0, 1.08 GAA, .965 save percentage
    With Evgeni Nabokov on the shelf with a bad groin, Toskala has stepped it up. As a result, the Sharks are flying under the radar as one of the NHL's hottest teams. Toskala replaced Nabokov after the first period at Phoenix. He didn't get the win, but he did make 31 saves without allowing a goal in the final 40 minutes. He made 32 saves for a 3-1 win against the red-hot Predators before beating up on the Hawks 3-2 (23 saves). In a tightly contested battle in Minnesota, Toskala won 2-1 with 17 saves. He ended his five-game stint with a 2-1 win at Edmonton, earning the game's first star with 35 saves.

    1. Tomas Vokoun, Nashville Predators


    Tomas Vokoun
    4 GP, 4-0-0, 1.50 GAA, GAA, .950 save percentage
    The NHL's defensive player of the week is on a roll, winning his last four games. In Denver he earned the game's first star in beating the Avalanche 3-2 behind 34 saves. The lefty then beat the Jackets 4-2 (26 saves, second star). In Boston, he won another tight one, out dueling Andrew Raycroft 2-1 (32 saves, first star). At home, Vokoun was sharp in a 4-1 victory against Buffalo (22 shots, second star).

    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.

    Darren Pang joined ESPN2 as an NHL game analyst in September 1993. He also works select ESPN National Hockey Night playoff contests and ABC Sports' telecasts. Pang played for the Blackhawks and was named to the All-Rookie team in 1987.