Sbisa decision overdue

    What took so long?

    That's the question most Flyers fans were asking when it was announced today that rookie defenseman Luca Sbisa was being sent to juniors.

     Make no mistake, Sbisa is going to be a future star. He is fast, a terrific puck-mover and, as he fills out, will become a physical presence. But the kid needs to play, not be a healthy scratch in most games.

    Sbisa, who turned 19 last week, sat out six of the last seven games, and it was extremely surprising that he was still with the Flyers after the all-star break. His presence led to speculation he was being kept around as insurance in case Randy Jones was traded.

    Now he's headed back to Lethbridge in the Western Hockey League, where he will get a chance to polish his skills. He could return to the Flyers late in the season, if needed, or perhaps in the playoffs.

    Even if he doesn't play again for the Flyers this season, he has a bright future in Philly. As captain Mike Richards said the other day, "he's going to be scary good."

    But first, he needs to play, regain his confidence and continue to blossom.

    In a side note, Sbisa's quiet humor and upbeat personality will be missed in the locker room. 

  * * * * * * * * * *

    The Flyers have sputtered since their Christmas break, compiling a 7-6-2 record.

    They have had a habit of playing up or down to their competition. More consistency and fewer penalties are needed if this team is going to make a Cup run. 

     Wednesday, they get a chance to upstage the surging Boston Bruins, the Eastern's Conference's surprising leader. Boston has the NHL's best defense (2.12 goals-against), while the Flyers are just 17th (2.86).

   * * * * * * * * *

   The Flyers are only 24th in the 30-team NHL in face-off percentage (48.2 percent success rate).

    Glen Metropolit has been the team's best center in face-offs (50.4 percent, 51st in the league). Mike Richards is at 49.9 percent (59th in the league) and Jeff Carter is at 47.1 percent (72d in the league).

_ Sam Carchidi