Winger Riley Cote has become the fifth Flyer to be suspended by the NHL this season for landing a check to an opponent's head. Cote, 25, drew a three-game suspension yesterday.

Commissioner Gary Bettman has formally told the team that any more incidents could result in disciplinary action such as a large fine against the organization.

The league thinks, "like I do, that these are different coincidences and have to be viewed differently, but the question was raised about ramifications if it happens again," said Paul Holmgren, the Flyers' general manager. "Obviously, we're under watch."

Cote charged into Dallas' Matt Niskanen on the back boards with an elbow to the head in the final minutes of Saturday's 4-1 loss.

Niskanen was not injured. If he had been, Cote would likely have been suspended longer.

Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly spoke to Holmgren by telephone after Cote's hearing in a conference call with Colin Campbell, the NHL's executive vice president and disciplinarian. Asked how the Flyers' players would be addressed after the league officially put the organization on notice, Holmgren said tersely, "It will be discussed."

"We want to play hard but play within the rules," Holmgren said. "It has to stop. The way it's going, it has to stop."

Campbell acknowledged that the league gave the Flyers a warning.

"Gary Bettman and I thought, based upon five suspensions in the first quarter of the season, that a conversation was required," Campbell said. "We talked to Paul and raised this and said it was time that he and [coach John Stevens] address this with the team."

"I had a chance to plead my case," said Cote, who will forfeit $8,021.40 in salary during the suspension. "I wasn't out there to hurt anybody but get a spark for the team. . . . It was unfortunate the way it turned out. I knew for sure I would get a couple just the way things were going - our reputation.

"I'm not going to put my team and the organization in this situation again. No one wants to hurt anybody, no one wants to get suspended. . . . We want to finish our checks, but no cheap shots."

Holmgren spoke to Cote after the game. The winger received a match penalty for the hit.

"It wasn't the smartest thing to do," Holmgren said, adding that Cote "crossed the line and he knows it. I think three games was fair."

No club in the NHL has been hit with as many suspensions as the Flyers. They have lost 52 man-games to them this season.

The other suspensions and dates of the incidents were:

Scott Hartnell on Nov. 26 -

Hartnell was suspended for two games for a dangerous hit on Boston's Andrew Alberts, who was kneeling on the ice.

Randy Jones on Oct. 27 -

Jones was banned for two games for hitting Boston's Patrice Bergeron while chasing the puck. Bergeron suffered multiple injuries, including a concussion that has kept him sidelined.

Jesse Boulerice on Oct. 10 -

Boulerice received a league-record 25-game suspension for cross-checking Vancouver's Ryan Kesler across the neck.

Steve Downie on Sept. 25 -

Downie was suspended for 20 games for a leaping shoulder hit to the head of Ottawa's Dean McAmmond in an exhibition game.

Fracas at practice.

Things are tense among the Flyers, who have lost five straight home games and continue to play inconsistently. At yesterday's practice, there was a brief fight between Danny Briere and Sami Kapanen.

"I always felt if players got their backs up in practice, it was a good thing," Holmgren said.

Briere said that the players had a team meeting in the morning about the Flyers' sloppy, inconsistent play and that a lot of raw emotions came to the surface, then spilled onto the ice.

"It was a battling drill . . . he gave me a shot," Briere said. "We're obviously not happy with the way we are bouncing up and down. Sometimes things like that happen. You always see it happen a few times a year."

Kapanen concurred.

"It's just frustration at the way we played the last game," he said. "Going into practice, everybody is a little tense. Things are not going the way we want at home. I'm probably frustrated the way I played myself."

Stevens downplayed the incident. "It was a competitive drill and emotions ran a little high," he said. "There was a lot of good work today. . . . There was contact there. Both guys got a little upset and stood their ground. It was short-lived."