Medical misery

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- If there's any such thing as a good time to play the Philadelphia Flyers, now might be it.

Ken Hitchcock's team is a banged-up a bunch as the Edmonton Oilers come calling at the Wachovia Center tonight to open a three-game road swing.

The Flyers injury woes are many.

First and foremost, leading scorer Peter Forsberg, who had been playing between Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble on Hitchcock's top line, is out with a nagging groin injury. He's missed five games.

"It's been a bad year that way, oh my God," said Hitchcock, who has had 13 players on his roster miss games with injuries. "It's not been dull. In Peter's case, it's up to him right now. He hasn't participated in any of our practices. He's pushing it more and more, but you never know with this type of injury."

The Flyers initially thought Forsberg, who has tallied 8-31-39, might return last weekend, but a followup exam found a tear in the groin. Forsberg took the morning skate Tuesday and will take a twirl this morning, but Hitchcock says it's highly unlikely he'll be ready to go when the puck drops.

WORSE THAN HE THOUGHT

"There's a small tear in there, so I don't know when I'll be back," Forsberg told the Delaware County Times. "I didn't think it was this bad at first."

Aside from losing Forsberg and having to re-jig his top trio, Hitchcock will be without the services of defenceman Joni Pitkanen. Pitkanen, Philadelphia's top-scoring blueliner with 8-15-23, underwent surgery yesterday to repair an abdominal tear. He will be out at least a month.

"Nobody is going to replace him in transition, absolutely nobody," Hitchcock said of Pitkanen, who was injured against the New York Islanders. "It's going to be incumbent on the other guys as a group to absorb his minutes, and it's not going to be easy to replace a guy who plays 25 minutes each night."

The news is better on goaltender Robert Esche, but he'll miss tonight's game and be out another week with a strained groin. That will mean Antero Niittymaki, who blanked Calgary 1-0 Tuesday, gets the start, while Jamie Storr is the backup.

PRIMEAU OUT SINCE OCT. 30

Captain Keith Primeau has been out since Oct. 30 battling the after-effects of a concussion.

Primeau, who has played just nine games, has been seeing specialists at the University of North Carolina to address a balance problem and had been making progress, but he's still not ready to play.

Defenceman Dennis Seidenberg, on the shelf with a broken right wrist since Nov. 19, is still a week away from returning.

Eric Desjardins will also join Pitkanen and Seidenberg on the shelf. He injured his right shoulder against the Flames in the first period and didn't return to the game. Desjardins, who underwent an MRI yesterday, will undergo shoulder surgery next Tuesday and will be out eight to 10 weeks.

The only good news for the Flyers is that Turner Stevenson, out five games with a hip-flexor, is slated to return tonight.

"What are you going to do? It's been one of those years for us," Hitchcock said."We've been able to stay afloat.

''Actually, we've played pretty well."


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