Pitkanen getting his groove back

, Last Updated: 1:32 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA—First place in the Atlantic Division once again belongs to the Philadelphia Flyers by virtue of a 6-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators, and much of the credit for the team’s success this month belongs to defenceman Joni Pitkanen.

The 6-3, 210-pound backliner leads all NHL players with 11 assists in his last 11 games, and since the beginning of March, Pitkanen has 14 points (1G, 13 assists) in his last 13 games.

“Joni is in the mix with six or seven other guys who were coming back from injury and are now just starting to get up to speed,” said head coach Ken Hitchcock.

“Everyone was having a heart attack because our team was not playing that well and everyone wanted (the injured players) to be right where they were when they got hurt and that’s not reality,” said Hitchcock.

“Joni is the perfect example.”

After missing 22 games following surgery to repair a sports hernia, Hitchcock said that Pitkanen was “tentative when he first came back and unsure of himself. He hadn’t played for a long time, and now he’s getting more and more confident.”

The return of players such as Peter Forsberg, Eric Desjardins, and Michal Handzus from injury have also helped the Flyers, who have a league-high 344 man-games lost this season.

“I think that’s why you see our team improving, because these guys are feeling good about their game, feeling healthy on the ice, feeling confident, and they are starting to get back to the level that they were at before they got hurt,” Hitchcock explained.

Pitkanen began the 2005-06 season with seven goals and 21 points in his first 20 games before being shelved with injury.

Returning to the lineup on Jan. 21 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitkanen was limited to eight minutes of ice time before missing the next two games after re-injuring his groin.

In the eight games prior to the Olympic break, Pitkanen had two goals and an assist but was a minus-3.

When the players returned from the NHL’s Olympic break, Pitkanen returned to his early-season form.

“I don’t know…sometimes (the points) just come,” said Pitkanen, asked to explain his offensive resurgence.

“Some weeks you have really good (scoring) chances and you don’t get any points and then some weeks you get (a lot of points).”


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