Undaunted Though rocked by injuries and dizzy from trades, the Flyers keep winning

February 23, 2004

Injuries and trades have drastically altered the look of the
Flyers over the past six weeks, but the latest developments left
coach Ken Hitchcock nearly breathless. On Feb. 9 Philadelphia
acquired goaltender Sean Burke and wing Branko Radivojevic from
the Coyotes in the Flyers' third major trade in 20 days. Then
last Thursday top centers Jeremy Roenick and Keith Primeau
staggered off the ice with injuries 32 seconds apart in a 2-1
road win over the Rangers. Hitchcock spent Friday monitoring the
condition of his forwards, summoning a replacement from the
minors and cobbling together new line combinations. "It's been a
little hectic around here," says Hitchcock.

Yet after completing a home-and-home sweep of the Rangers with a
6-2 win on Saturday--Burke was in net for both games, and
22-year-old rookie Patrick Sharp scored two goals in the
rematch--the Flyers were still comfortably atop the Atlantic
Division and were tied with the Avalanche for the NHL lead in
points (78).

The extended absence of Roenick will test Philadelphia's resolve.
The team's second-leading scorer (45 points), Roenick suffered a
broken jaw and the ninth concussion of his career when he was hit
in the face by a slap shot. It's doubtful he'll return before the
end of the regular season--if at all. Over the weekend Roenick
said this latest head injury could force him to retire. Primeau
suffered a mild concussion after a collision with Bobby Holik and
was expected to be back in the lineup this week.

The Flyers might have been better able to absorb the blow of
losing Roenick had G.M. Bobby Clarke not parted with another
talented center, Mike Comrie, to get Burke. Clarke made that move
because Philadelphia's regular netminder, first-year starter
Robert Esche, is out until early March with a sprained left knee,
and his backup, Jeff Hackett, retired last week with chronic
vertigo.

Just last month Clarke had to make deals for defensemen Danny
Markov (from the Hurricanes) and Mattias Timander (Islanders) to
replace the injured Eric Desjardins (fractured right forearm;
expected to be back by late March) and Dennis Seidenberg (broken
left leg; could return for the playoffs). Those deals--not to
mention the December trade that brought Comrie from the Oilers
for prized prospect Jeff Woywitka--cost the Flyers much of their
young talent.

That means an additional trade to fill the need at center is
unlikely, and it will fall to Burke, 37, and rookie backup Antero
Niittymaki (3-0 in his first three NHL starts) to keep the team
above water until the club gets healthy. With Phoenix this season
Burke was 10-15-5 and had a 2.81 goals-against average, but if
there's one aspect of his team that Hitchcock now feels
comfortable with, it's goaltending. "Sean is a damn good goalie,"
says Hitchcock, who is aware that Philadelphia fans remember
Burke's dismal stint in 1997-98, when the Flyers were eliminated
in five games by the Sabres in the first-round of the playoffs.

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: B. BENNETT/BBS (2) In a wild week Roenick broke his jaw and Primeau (inset) got aconcussion, but new arrival Burke stood tall in net, beating theRangers twice. COLOR PHOTO: J. MCISAAC/BBS (BURKE) [See caption above]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)