Flyers captain Mike Richards will never be a fiery, outspoken leader in the Chris Pronger mold.

It's not his style.

The quiet Richards leads by his on-ice example. And he deserves credit for pointing a finger at himself _ like good leaders do _ for the team's recent funk.

"I feel some responsibility for being in the slump we're in," he said in a soft-spoken tone after practice Tuesday in Voorhees. "An offensive player needs to score, and I haven't been doing that on a consistent basis. I feel a responsibility for the slide, and the only way to get better at that is to spend more time in the offensive zone....You can't wait for the power play."
    The Flyers (13-10-1) have lost five of their last six games, during which they have scored a total of 12 goals. Richards has just three goals in the last 12 games, though he has scored twice in the last three contests.

Richards, 24, pledged his support for coach John Stevens, who has come under scrutiny for the team's mediocre play. He said Stevens brough the Flyers "from being the worst team in the league" to being a contender. "There's obviously a lot of heat when you don't win, but he's the guy who has brought us from kind of nothing to where we are now. The expectations are high, but I think we have the right guy to take us in the right direction."

Stevens said he only concerns himself with things he can control.

"What I can control is getting the team ready to play, planning the practice and the work, and coming up with a game plan that we think we can win with," he said. "We like our team; we think there are a lot of areas that our team is a lot better at now than we were before; we're better without the puck than we have been in a long time, our shots-for are up and our shots-against are down. Now we just have to start turning that into results."

Stevens isn't dwelling on his job security.

"I don't know if I have enough time to worry about it, to be honest with you," he said. "I think our whole focus and energy goes on getting the team ready to play, meeting with the players, making sure we address all the needs of the players and getting them to play at the highest level possible."

Thursday, the Flyers will try to regroup when they host Vancouver. They need to show much more urgency on the power play and penalty kill _ and finish their chances around the net.

The return of Danny Briere, who has mised the last three games, could energize the offense.

"He's a game-breaker kind of player and can score goals at key times," Stevens said.

The Flyers have scored first in just one of their last six games. Opponents have scored first in the last five contests.

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Stevens is still undecided on whether Ray "Razor" Emery (2.65 goals-against average; .907 save percentage) or Brian Boucher (2.01; .930) will be his goalie Thursday.

Boucher has been the team's best goalie the last two weeks.

Which goalie would you start?

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       Inner-city players from the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation (ESYHF) have been invited by the NHL to participate in activities at the Winter Classic between the Flyers and Boston Bruins at Fenway Park on Jan. 1.

The players, who range from seven to nine-years-old, will skate on a specially constructed "frozen pond" at Fenway and play hockey during pregame, intermission and timeouts throughout the NBC national broadcast, as well as participate in official pre-game ceremonies.

The players: twins Solomon and Samuel Johnson, 7; Grey Rumain, 9; Jasmine Martinez, 9; and Eva Hamel, 8. All are from Philadelphia, and they earned the opportunity through their commitment to ESYHF programs that emphasize excellence on the ice and in the classroom.