Once upon a time, opponents used to fear facing the Flyers in South Philadelphia.


Not anymore.

They don't push teams around with any physicality. They don't score many goals. They don't win the special-teams battles.

Other than that, they look like Stanley Cup contenders.

The Flyers allowed three power-play goals and dropped a 4-1 decision to the Florida Panthers tonight at the Wachovia Center, where fans chanted E-A-G-L-E-S when they weren't booing.

To make matters worse, goalie Brian Boucher who has been filling in admirably for the injured Ray Emery - left the game after cutting his hand early in the second period

The Legion of Gloom has lost 14 of 17; they are 2-7-1 since Peter Laviolette replaced the fired John Stevens, and they have scored a total of nine goals in their last 10 losses.

No wonder fans were booing tonight, especially during the Flyers' inept power plays.

The Flyers are 9-9-2 at home, including four straight losses. Since 1970-71, they have finished with losing records at home just three times.

Ian Laperriere, who lost seven teeth and had nearly 100 stitches administered when hit in the mouth with a shot last month, was one of the few Flyers who showed any energy, getting into three fights.

You have to wonder if the NHL folks who picked the Flyers to play Boston in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 are shaking their heads and asking themselves: What were we thinking?

The Flyers seem to be good in one area recently: getting their shots blocked.

They had seven shots blocked and fell into their usual 1-0 hole in an uninspired first period, one in which they were 0 for 3 on the power play.

The Panthers took a 1-0 lead when Nathan Horton scored on the power play, deflecting Keith Ballard's shot past Boucher after 4 minutes, 53 seconds. It marked the sixth time in the last seven games that the Flyers had surrendered the first goal.

The goal was scored while Scott Hartnell was in the penalty box for an ill-advised tripping penalty that negated a Flyers power play.

With Danny Briere serving a double minor for high-sticking Bryan Allen, Florida made it 2-0 as Stephen Weiss scored on a rebound with 17:59 left in the second period.

Boucher made a great diving save to turn aside Michael Frolik's shot, but the rebound caromed to Weiss, who put it into the empty net.

Boucher appeared to injure his right (stick) hand on the play - he was bleeding as he went to the locker room - and was replaced by Michael Leighton, who was making his first appearance since the Flyers picked him up on reentry waivers from Carolina last Tuesday.

Through two periods, the Flyers' special teams were abysmal. They were 0 for 5 on the power play - and never had any sustained pressure - and they allowed Florida to convert on two of its four power-play chances.

Loud boos echoed around the Wachovia Center as the horn sounded to end the second period.