Simon Gagne has an early Christmas present for his family.
This afternoon, in front of his wife, son, brother and parents, Gagne will make his triumphant return to the Flyers' lineup after missing the last 24 games recovering from abdominal surgery.
"[Yesterday] was pretty much the first time that I enjoyed myself in practice," Gagne said yesterday at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J. "I knew that the way I was feeling, [today] was going to be my first game back. I have family coming in for Christmas, so that's always fun. It's been 2 months, so I am pretty excited."
Gagne had surgery on Nov. 2 to repair and strengthen two tears in his abdominus rectus muscle at Hahnemann University Hospital. He spent 53 days on the long-term injured reserve list.
His first game back will be the Flyers' first test against the Rangers this season; although the season is nearly half completed, this is the first time these Atlantic Division rivals will square off.
"[This] is going to be a good test," Gagne said. "I have pushed myself on the ice - battled one-on-one and done stops and starts, everything looked pretty good. I'm ready for the next step."
Forward Jon Kalinski, who stepped up for the Flyers with two big games this week, was loaned to Adirondack to make room for Gagne on the roster.
Gagne toyed with the idea of returning against Pittsburgh on Thursday, but felt tightness in his abs in the morning skate. He warned that it might take "five or six games" to be back to his old self.
"I didn't want to take any chances and go and play and make it more tight," Gagne said. "[Yesterday] felt pretty good. I did pretty much everything I think I could do to get ready to play a game.
"I might feel a little scar tissue. But that's normal when you come back from a surgery."
The Flyers need Gagne's scoring prowess in the lineup. The 29-year-old winger, who scored 34 goals and 40 assists last season, skated on the left side with Mike Richards and Dan Carcillo at practice yesterday.
"Anytime you get a top-six player back in the lineup, you're getting a boost to your lineup," coach Peter Laviolette said. "Offense is the name of the game."
The Flyers did not make a roster move before last night's midnight holiday roster freeze. The freeze expires at midnight on Dec. 27 . . . Mike Richards and Jeff Carter donated 75 full sets of Bauer hockey equipment (including skates) to the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation yesterday . . . Chris Pronger appeared on Jim Rome's program yesterday afternoon on ESPN . . . Approximately 1,000 tickets remain for today's game . . . Always fiery Rangers coach John Tortorella went on an obsencity-laden tirade to the press after his team lost to the Islanders, 2-1, on Wednesday. The Rangers started the season 7-1-0, but have gone 8-15-3 since then. *
For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at