EVERY SEASON the Flyers seem to get hit with an inordinate number of injuries. They come frequently and at the worst times, like just before the conference finals last season when they lost their top defensemen,

Braydon Coburn


Kimmo Timonen


Let's hope what the Flyers are going through right now will get some of the injuries out of the way because it's hard to believe that their luck can be this bad.

When they left Philadelphia to start a six-game road trip on Dec. 26, they were a relatively healthy group. They flew home yesterday a tattered bunch, with several players heading right to see doctors. After speaking to general manager Paul Holmgren, who is in Ottawa at the World Junior Championships, you have to wonder what the team will look like the rest of the month.

The latest news concerns goalie Antero Niittymaki. According to Holmgren, Niittymaki suffered a groin injury in the shootout loss in Los Angeles on Saturday night. The injury was not disclosed right away and he did not leave the game, playing injured in the overtime and shootout.

But he is doubtful for tomorrow night in Washington and the team will not say anything more before today at the earliest. Scott Munroe will be called up from the Phantoms to take Niittymaki's place on the bench, but for how long no one knows.

"The fact that he stayed in the game, played the overtime and participated in the shootout should mean that it's not that serious," Holmgren said. "I just hope it's not his hip."

Niittymaki has had problems with labrum tears in both hips and sat out training camp while recovering from surgery to his left hip. He previously had surgeries on both sides.

Rookie Claude Giroux likely will be out for Washington and maybe longer, depending on the severity of the concussion he suffered when Corey Perry elbowed him in the side of the head in Anaheim. The league suspended Perry for four games as a result of the blatant headshot.

Darroll Powe, with an unspecified lower body injury, played in Los Angeles, but did not feel good and will be re-evaluated. Scott Hartnell is playing with a broken, black and swollen big toe, and Timonen is playing with a chip fracture in his right ankle; both those injuries were sustained in Chicago.

Simon Gagne is still uncertain for Washington. He suffered a left shoulder injury in Vancouver and is day-to-day.

"He's getting better," Holmgren said. "We're hopeful that he'll play [tomorrow]. He had an MRI that showed that there wasn't a tear so he's healing."

And then there is Danny Briere, who has been out for most of the season with various forms of groin problems and an abdominal tear, but is inching his way back and is targeted for a return Thursday at home against Minnesota.

All-Star voting

Congratulations to the Montreal Canadiens and their fans for being so determined to make sure they got as many of their players, deserving or not, voted onto the Eastern Conference All-Star team's starting roster.

Four of the six starters will be Canadiens, including forward Alexei Kovalev, defensemen Andrei Markov and Mike Komisarek and goalie Carey Price. The Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are the other starters.

You can't fault Habs fans for wanting to see their guys on the team, with the game being played in Montreal on the 100th anniversary of the franchise - but come on.

In no way is Komisarek a more deserving defenseman than Kimmo Timonen. And please, someone, convince me that Alex Ovechkin is not better than every one of the starters.

Now the job for NHL vice president Colin Campbell is to sort out the mess, while finding a way to get every team represented. There were five Flyers on the ballot: Briere, Mike Richards, Timonen, Marty Biron and Gagne, with Jeff Carter a strong write-in.

Asked what he thought about the results, Holmgren said: "The fans must not have been watching Ovechkin."

It's unlikely that Campbell will add more than three Flyers, and maybe only two if he really tries to even things out.

So look for Carter, Richards and either Gagne or Timonen to make the squad.

Beyond the All-Star game

John Stevens

doesn't need to be reminded that the post-All-Star-break Flyers of 2008 were not a winning team. They were playing like a team that could go all the way; then came the midseason break, and when the season resumed the Flyers couldn't win and went into a freefall. It continued through to the final month of the season and their playoff berth was a skin-of-the-teeth moment that could have gone either way.

"We won a game right after the break, but it was then that we started that stretch of 10 games without a win," the coach said. "It's something we have to learn from. Even though we're on vacation we have to do something to take care of ourselves physically to have energy coming out of that break.

"We're really going to push hard; we've got 3 days before our last game to try and get our conditioning up and then we're going to try and make sure our guys take care of themselves coming out of the break so we're ready to go." *

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