THE FLYERS tore the wrapping off their holiday package 2 days early at the Wachovia Center. It contained something they can never get enough of: another victory at home. This one was a 6-4 win over the Ottawa Senators before a capacity crowd of 19,578 last night, and it was a game that very easily could have gotten away from them.
The Flyers took a 4-2 lead into the third period, when the Senators tied it on goals by left winger Dany Heatley - his second of the game - and defenseman Chris Phillips. But the Flyers won it on an unassisted goal by Simon Gagne at 14:30 of the period, a shot from the left circle that deflected off the skates of two Ottawa players and eluded goaltender Alex Auld. Center Mike Richards added an empty-net goal for the margin of victory.
The Flyers are unbeaten in regulation in their last 12 games at home (10-0-2). It was a game that coach John Stevens conceded they could well have squandered a year ago.
"I see a lot of guys who want to be on the ice," said Stevens, whose team next plays on Friday evening against the Blackhawks in Chicago. "A lot of our young guys have matured, and we have a strong veteran presence. I think we deserved to win tonight. That two points is important as we go on the road."
Left winger Scott Hartnell agreed that he and his teammates "could have definitely shut it down" in the third period. But he added: "Confidence is a big part of it. We are playing with so much confidence right now and everyone is having a good time. Practices are fun and we are carrying that into game. We are finding ways to win instead of finding ways to lose."
The Flyers appeared to be well on the way to doing that by the end of the second period.
Ottawa tied it at 2-2 on a power-play goal at 2:58 of the period, when Heatley beat Antero Niittymaki on a feed from center Jason Spezza for his 15th goal. But the Flyers answered with a power-play goal of their own. Jeff Carter continued his fine offensive play with his NHL-leading 26th goal when he followed up a shot by Braydon Coburn at 6:00. Carter has recorded a point or more in eight of his last nine games - including a goal in seven of them.
The Flyers extended their lead at 7:56 when right winger Andreas Nodl scored his first NHL goal. Called up from the Phantoms yesterday to replace the injured Scottie Upshall, Nodl was credited with deflecting a shot from the blue line by defenseman Kimmo Timonen. Initially, he said he was not sure himself what had happened.
"Apparently," he said, "they took a look at it three times and it hit my breezer, then a defenseman and got into the net . . . It was my goal."
(Nodl explained that "breezer" is another word for "pads" or "pants.")
The Flyers led 2-1 after the first period.
Ottawa opened the scoring at 5:01 of the period, when Nick Foligno followed up his own shot, which became wedged behind Niittymaki's pad. It was Foligno's fifth goal of the season.
But the Flyers peppered 16 shots on Auld in the first period. They tied the score at 6:33 of the period when Matthew Carle scored his third goal of the year with a shot from just inside the blue line that slipped between Auld's legs.
The Flyers then went ahead just before the end of the period. Ottawa had just exhausted a Flyers' power play when Hartnell fired a shot on goal from the corner. With Senators defenseman Phillips tangled up in the crease with Flyers right wing Joffrey Lupul, the puck caromed off Auld and dribbled into the net. It was Lupul's 13th goal of the year.
"Honestly, I just closed my eyes and it hit me," he said. "We're getting some bounces right now, but we're also going to the net really hard. Sometimes you do that, you get rewarded. Sometimes you get those lucky ones."
Gagne echoed that. He said he had been "looking for [Mike] Knuble in front of the net" and the puck hit the Ottawa defenseman. "You never know what can happen when you put one on the net."
Flyers defenseman Luca Sbisa was benched for oversleeping and missing a team meeting. Said John Stevens: "To be honest, I think he got a new phone where he didn't figure out the alarm . . . It's all part of growing up." *