Defensive pairings seem set; Palin odds set for Wachovia Center appearance

   The Flyers will unveil an inexperienced defense when they open their 42d season Saturday night against the New York Rangers at the Wachovia Center.
    Four defensemen _ Luca Sbisa, Steve Eminger, Lasse Kukkonen and Ossi Vaananen _ played a combined 73 NHL games last season.
    “Personally, I’m not too concerned,” said Braydon Coburn, who is only 23 but is one of the Flyers’ most experienced defensemen. “I think we have six (defensemen) that any team would be comfortable with. I don’t think you can look at one particular pair or one particular group and say ‘I don’t like that group.’ We have six guys who work well together and work hard and fill roles really well.”
    Coach John Stevens said the defensive pairings Saturday would probably look like this: Kimmo Timonen and fellow Finland native Vaananen; Coburn and Eminger; and Sbisa, and Kukkonen.
    “I liked the way it looked today,” Stevens said after today's practice at the Skate Zone in Voorhees. “I liked the way the D moved the puck and that’s probably how we’ll start.”
   Injuries to Randy Jones (hip) and Ryan Parent (shoulder), each of whom aren’t expected in the lineup until at least December, have caused the Flyers to break up their No. 1 defensive pairing of Timonen and Coburn.

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    If the D pairings don't work, I wouldn't be surpised if the 18-year-old Sbisa is paired with Vaananen, who has six years' of NHL experience, and Kukkonen is moved with Timonen.

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    Betting on Palin _ or not

    Believe it or not, betting lines have been established around vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin dropping the puck before Saturday night's game.

   The oddsmakers think Palin will get more cheers than boos (that surprises me) _ and that she WON'T wear a Flyers jersey.



    Here are the odds:



    ** 10/1 that Palin fall down while dropping the pick. If she falls down, you win $10 on a $1 bet.



    ** 1,000/1 that Palin will get in a donnybrook with Flyers captain Mike Richards at center ice. If she gets in a fight, you win $1,000 on a $1 bet.



    ** Will Palin get more cheers or boos when she is introduced on the ice?



     The bet is “even” that she will get more boos. In other words, if you bet, say, $100 that she’ll get more boos, your winnings would be $100 if that happened.



     ** The bet is -130 that she’ll get more cheers; you would have to bet $130 to win $100.



    ** Will Palin wear a Flyers’ jersey to center ice?



    The bet is “even” that she will. So if she wears a Flyers’ jersey, you win whatever you bet. If you bet $100, for instance, you would win $100 if she wore their jersey.



   The bet is -140 that she won’t wear a Flyers’ jersey. So you would have to bet $140 to win $100. (Apparently, the oddsmakers don’t think she’d wear a Flyers’ jersey because it would offend

New York voters, er, fans.)



    Flyers goalie Marty Biron said he didn’t think Palin’s appearance would turn the game into a political event.



    I think it’s fun that she’ll be here,” he said. “President Bill Clinton came into our locker room in Buffalo when I was there; he was there for a conference in Buffalo and he came to the locker room before the game and shook hands…There are some people who potentially lead the world and anytime you have a chance to meet them or have them involved in your organization, it’s great.”

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   Sbisa will not be the youngest player _ or even the youngest defenseman _ to play for the Flyers when he is in Saturday's lineup against the Rangers.



    Sbisa is 18 years, 253 days old. The club’s youngest defenseman was Steve Smith, who was 18 years, 215 days when he played for the Flyers in 1981. Dainius Zubrus was the youngest player in Flyers history _ 18 years, 111 days when he played in 1996.



    Sbisa took the man who was part of his “host” junior family on a locker-room tour after practice today in Voorhees, and coach John Stevens said the defenseman’s parents are slated to arrive from and attend his NHL debut tonight.

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Here are the lines for Saturday's opener:

1. Gagne, Richards, Briere

2. Upshall, Carter, Knuble

3. Hartnell, Metropolit, Lupul

4. Cote, Downie (Ross if Downie is unavailable), Asham 

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About 200 tickets are left for Saturday's opener. The Rangers have already played three regular-season games and might be sharper _ though the Flyers downplayed that suggestion.