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Oilers are masters at penalty-killing in defeating Flyers

Oilers are masters at penalty-killing in defeating Flyers

Thinking the second period was about to end, the Flyers' Simon Gagne started trudging up the tunnel toward the locker room, where the boos from the Wachovia Center crowd could be closed out and the embarrassment of what had just happened on the ice might subside.

But play stopped with a few seconds to go, and Gagne and his teammates had to hang around a little longer to listen to the sour music coming from the stands.

The spectators were on edge because the Flyers, down by 3-1 at the time, had just squandered two full minutes of a two-man advantage, and the Edmonton Oilers rode their crucial penalty kill to a 3-2 victory on Thursday night.

"That was the turning point in the game," Flyers rookie center Mike Richards said. "They had a huge energy swing off of that. Whenever you kill a key penalty like that at such a key time, it really gives a team momentum. They killed that off and seemed to build on it."

The Flyers had hope until the final minute because Sami Kapanen made it 3-2 with a power-play goal, and they had another two-man advantage in the final minute, when Edmonton took a penalty and goalie Antero Niittymaki was pulled from the net.

But it didn't matter. This was a night when the Flyers served evidence that having more guys than the other team isn't always a good thing.

The Oilers' Ethan Moreau scored two shorthanded goals and came awfully close to getting a third, and the Flyers were a dismal 1 for 8 on the power play.

The Flyers have scored two goals in the last two games. Offensively, they are severely handicapped without center Peter Forsberg and defensemen Joni Pitkanen and Eric Desjardins, three injured players who pull the trigger on the power play.

Injuries have also forced coach Ken Hitchcock to go with new combinations on the penalty-killing unit, which surrendered a goal to Jarret Stoll that made it 2-1 in the second period.

"There are a lot of new people playing there," Hitchcock said. "You have people on the power play who haven't played there all year, and those things are going to happen. Hopefully in a couple weeks we'll be a lot better, but when you lose both your quarterbacks, you're going to have an adjustment phase."

The Flyers will have to do without Pitkanen and Desjardins for another two months or so. The return of Forsberg, out with a groin pull, is uncertain, but more imminent.

On the power play, Forsberg is sorely missed. The numbers bear it out. The Flyers had 31 power-play goals with Forsberg in the first 21 games. The last six games without him, they've scored only three on 33 tries. "It's no excuse," Kapanen said. "I think we just got outworked and outhustled, and that's why we lost the game."

Hitchcock also believed the Flyers appeared weary. "I don't think we had the energy in our tank that we had in the past," he said. "We're going to have to reenergize ourselves for (Saturday) afternoon. We looked like at times a tired hockey club."

In the second period, after the Flyers pulled even at 1-1, the Oilers used Stoll's power-play goal and Moreau's second shorthanded goal to take a 3-1 lead.

The Flyers squandered several chances to clear the puck out of their zone before Stoll poked in a rebound to break the tie with 12 minutes to go in the second period.

Shortly after Stoll's 11th goal of the season, Edmonton continued to carry the play and dropped a couple of calling cards with some big hits. In a quick sequence, Raffi Torres blasted the newest Flyer, Matt Ellison, at one end of the ice before defenseman Jason Smith bowled over Michal Handzus at the other end.

Moments later, when the Flyers went on a power play, Stoll controlled the puck in front of the Oilers' net and patiently lofted a pass down the middle of the ice that Moreau chased down for his second solo breakaway on Niittymaki. As he did earlier in the game, Moreau, a 30-year-old veteran, made it count, giving Edmonton a 3-1 lead with his third shorthanded goal of the season.

"We gave up two shorthanded goals, both off scoring chances of our own, and when you've got young players back there, those are mistakes that are going to happen," Hitchcock said. "We'll get better with it."

The Flyers' Branko Radivojevic evened the score at 1-1 early in the second period. Turner Stevenson, back after missing four games with a hip injury, got the assist.

In other NHL action: Buffalo 3, Anaheim 2; Tampa Bay 5, St. Louis 4; Minnesota 5, Pittsburgh 0; Coumbus 4, NY Islanders 3, SO; NY Rangers 4, Nashville 1; Carolina 3, Los Angeles 2; San Jose 6, Florida 2.