Matt Carle,

who has sparked the Flyers' defense since he was acquired from Tampa Bay on Nov. 7, will miss his fourth straight game tonight because of back spasms.

An MRI yesterday was negative, and the Flyers are listing Carle as day to day.

"We are hopeful that the anti-inflammatory medicine he has been taking will bring relief soon," general manager Paul Holmgren said,

Carle said there was no play that triggered the injury. He has been skating on his own but has had pain in his back and side when he shoots the puck.

With Carle sidelined, Lasse Kukkonen has stepped into the lineup and performed admirably.

Jones eyes return

Defenseman

Randy Jones,

who hasn't played this season because of hip surgery, continues to make progress and hopes to be cleared to play next Tuesday against visiting Colorado.

Jones, who said he is not concerned by rumors that he could be dealt to Columbus, said he was "just worried about getting back and helping the team win."

Breakaways

Jeff Carter

(19 goals) entered last night tied with Buffalo's

Thomas Vanek

for the NHL goal-scoring lead. He could become the first Flyer to win the goal-scoring title since

Reggie Leach

netted 61 goals in 1975-76.

Marty Biron (9-6-4, 2.94 goals-against average) will be tonight's goalie against the Islanders at the Wachovia Center, with the sizzling Antero Niittymaki (4-1-2, 2.44 goals-against) penciled in as the starter Thursday against visiting Carolina, a team he has defeated twice this season.

- Sam Carchidi