Nitty won't face Flyers; Briere status improved

  It would have been great theatre if Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet decided to start goalie Antero Niittymaki against his former Flyers teammates Monday.

   But Tocchet is being a spoilsport.

    After Sunday's practice, he told Tampa reporters that Mike Smith would start.

  Maybe he thinks Nitty would put too much pressure on himself if he faced the host Flyers in a game moved to 5 p.m. to accomodate the World Series.

   The Flyers should be thrilled with Tocchet's decision. Smith has struggled mightily, while his backup, Niittymaki, has excelled.

    Smith has a 3.17 goals-against average and an .893 save percentage. Niittymaki, who made 37 saves and was brilliant in a 2-1 shoot-out loss to New Jersey Saturday, has a 2.22 GAA and a .931 save percentage.

   Ray Emery (2.46, .915) will make his 11th start in 12 games for the Flyers.

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    After missing seven games because of a dislocated right shoulder, Blair Betts made an impressive return in Saturday's 6-1 conquest of Carolina. The veteran center was dominant in the faceoff circle _ he won 13 of 18 draws _ and the penalty kill.
   Teaming with Ian Laperriere, Betts helped the Flyers kill all five Carolina power plays.
     “You want to have guys on third and fourth line that can be really good role players,” coach John Stevens said after Sunday's practice in Voorhees, “and Betts and Lappy willed themselves in front of shots and blocked shots _ and it really revs up guys on your team when you see guys paying the price like they do.”
    With Betts in the lineup, the Flyers are 4-0 and have killed 23 of 25 penalties (92 percent).

    Without him, they are 2-4-1 and have killed 22 of 27 penalties (81.5 percent ).
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   The Flyers finally received some positive medical news.

    Danny Briere, who didn’t play Saturday because of an injured a muscle underneath his quad, is making progress and may return Friday against his former team, Buffalo.
      The Flyers had originally announced it was a groin injury, but they now say it is below his quad _ and not related to the groin problems that forced him to miss most of last season.
     Meanwhile, a decision on how to treat Simon Gagne’s two hernias was delayed for the third straight day. Gagne has had conflicting advice from two doctors on whether surgery should be performed _ and he is now seeking advice from a third doctor. He will be examined by Dr. William Meyers Monday.

    “And then we can put this to an end,” general manager Paul Holmgren said.
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      Defenseman Ryan Parent, who had missed three games with a groin strain, returned to action and re-aggravated the injury in the second period Saturday. He will be sidelined for a week, Holmgren said. That means he won’t play   Monday against Tampa Bay or Friday in Buffalo. 

    Ole-Kristian Tollefsen figures to take his spot.
    Parent had been paired with Kimmo Timonen on Saturday.