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March 29, 2001 - Flyers doing line dance to injury tunes

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Flyers doing line dance to injury tunes
 
The Flyers have been asked to do a lot this season with an injury-depleted lineup. They have been asked to go weeks at a time without several regulars. And they have not only survived, but have been in contention to lead the Atlantic Division.

What they haven't been asked to do, however, is go through the playoffs without a No. 1 or No. 2 center.

Losing Keith Primeau to a knee injury on top of losing Daymond Langkow is devastating, given that Primeau had 34 goals and the remaining four centers on the team have just 37 combined.

Langkow, who had broken bones in both feet, says he can play in the final few games of the regular season. If the Flyers go into the playoffs without both centers, they will be fortunate to last one playoff round.

"I will prepare as though that first round I will end up missing," Primeau said yesterday. "But with the accomplishments of my teammates, we'll still be alive for the second round."

Primeau emphasized that he would not be reevaluated until midway into the first round, so missing the round entirely seemed likely.

Langkow was to be X-rayed again yesterday to see how much his right foot had healed. His left foot has healed. He remains in a walking boot on the right foot. Team orthopedic surgeon Art Bartolozzi said last night that Langkow had shown significant improvement and would be reevaluated Monday to determine when he might begin begin skating again.

Primeau, who has a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee, began an aggressive rehabilitation yesterday. And while he said he would likely miss one round, he said he could recover more quickly than the Flyers imagined.

"I'm going to push the envelope, push the rehab to the max . . . and force them to let me play" before three weeks have elapsed, Primeau said.

For the time being, Mark Recchi, who has played center here and did so earlier in his career in Montreal and Pittsburgh, will take Primeau's spot. Left winger Simon Gagne will stay where he is, and John LeClair will move up one line to right wing. Because Gagne is coming off a partial dislocation of his left shoulder, he can't take face-offs at center.

That line last skated in those positions for Games 3, 4 and 6 of last spring's Eastern Conference finals, against New Jersey.

Primeau took 1,811 face-offs this season and won 53.4 percent of his draws. Peter White took about half that many and won 54.3 percent. Langkow has won 47 percent of his draws, and Kent Manderville 48 percent.

Losing their best center is old news to the Flyers. They lost Eric Lindros at season's end the last two years and survived. Last season, they still had a No. 2 guy until Langkow was hurt in the conference finals, forcing Recchi into the middle and LeClair to right wing.

"Obviously, it makes it more difficult," Recchi said. "It is not something that we will use and make an excuse. We are still going to play. If we play well as a team like we have - that's how we got this far."

Recchi has won 44 percent of his 113 face-offs. Moving him to center doesn't figure to be as much of a problem as moving LeClair to right wing, where he looked uncomfortable last spring.

"It will be OK," LeClair said. "The biggest thing will be along the wall in our zone. That is the only change."

"Playing with Rex and Gags, they are pretty creative offensively, and you kind of end up all over the offensive zone," he said, referring to Recchi and Gagne. "I haven't played that much on left wing, either, this season, so what's the difference? Once you break out, everyone fills a lane and is all over. The biggest adjustment is along the wall and breaking the puck out."

LeClair doesn't view as a big deal his having to take passes on his backhand while coming up the ice.

"We can switch [wings] if we have to," Gagne said.

Of course, this once again places most of the Flyers' scoring on their top line, with little elsewhere. Then again, given the injuries, they have little choice.

"You can't sit here and cry and feel sorry for yourself," LeClair said of the Flyers' plight.

Dean McAmmond, who has already been playing center with the club, is now the No. 2 center. He worked with Ruslan Fedotenko and Rick Tocchet yesterday.

White and Manderville will stay where they are, except that White will center for Paul Ranheim and Justin Williams, and Manderville for Jody Hull and either Todd Fedoruk or P.J. Stock.

"It's not surviving, it's winning," LeClair said. "You don't see anybody packing up and calling a travel agent. It's not over. Primes is going to be out for a while. We'll make the best of it and move on."

Coach Bill Barber said it wouldn't matter who was where because the players play everywhere in the offensive zone, anyway. Barber said his players viewed Primeau's injury as just another challenge in a long line of obstacles that goes back to last season.

"This team has been through a helluva lot," Barber said. "Don't sell us short."