ASK ANY PLAYER in the NHL why it is so hard to know from one game to the next what is or is not a penalty and he will tell you the same thing: inconsistency.

The more I watch these games, the more convinced I become that an individual official has the leeway to see the games and its rules the way he wants at any given moment.

And, no, I am not talking about the absolutely ridiculous icing call in the Flyers' shootout loss Saturday night against Buffalo at the Wachovia Center, the one with 14 seconds left in the third period, the one in which Jason Pominville acted as if he were pumping his legs as hard as he could to get to that bobbling, drifting puck lofted by Mike Richards.

The Flyers lost that game on their own, but referee Eric Furlatt, who worked both weekend games, made one questionable call or noncall after another against the Flyers, such as the one he made from the other end of the ice on Friday, or the roughing call on Richards Saturday that wouldn't have been a penalty in a no-check, adult league.

But let's talk about the noncall in Friday's game, the really big one, the one with the irrefutable evidence, thanks the Internet technology called YouTube.

Two referees, including Furlatt, the guy with the excellent vision, stood a few feet away while Maxim Afinogenov first kicked Scottie Upshall's foot out from under him sending him backward and dangerously to the ice, and then either attempted to or succeeded in kicking him while he was on the ice.

Look it up on YouTube. It's titled, "Afinogenov slew foots/kicks Upshall."

Call it up and check it out. Two referees standing right there didn't see it? Justin St. Pierre was close enough to move in and pull Afinogenov off. But he didn't see it?

Wasn't this about the same thing that earned Chris Simon 30 games?

I've said it before and I'll say it again, the officiating in the NHL needs fixing, tough job or not. It gets really tiring listening to "they have a really hard job" as a defense. So do a lot of other people.

Back to consistency

The unfortunate thing about the Flyers going into the Christmas break on a six-game skid is that they have found the level of consistency they have been searching for, but it isn't good: They are consistently finding ways to lose games they would have won earlier in the season.

The unfortunate thing about the Flyers going into the Christmas break on a six-game skid is that they have found the level of consistency they have been searching for, but it isn't good: They are consistently finding ways to lose games they would have won earlier in the season.

The surprise team in the East early in the year now sits tied for last in the Atlantic Division in points with the Islanders, and tied for 12th in the Eastern Conference. Some of this has to do with Simon Gagne being out of the lineup since Nov. 8, but more of it has to do with the fact that they are not the "Broad Street Bullies." They need to play tougher and desperately need to play better in their own end.

Yes, the icing call should not have happened, but a team that can't kill 14 seconds in the defensive zone with a one-goal lead and a must-win game on the line isn't going very far even if it does make the playoffs.

Richards' contract

Mike Richards continues to show exactly why he was a good 12-year, $69 million investment. There are only a few players with the kind of character it would take to make that deal, and Richards is one of them.

Mike Richards continues to show exactly why he was a good 12-year, $69 million investment. There are only a few players with the kind of character it would take to make that deal, and Richards is one of them.

Good luck to Williams

Former Flyer Justin Williams suffered another tear of his left ACL and will be out for up to 6 months. Williams suffered the same knee injury while with the Flyers in 2003, missed 31 games, and then came back for the playoffs.

Former Flyer suffered another tear of his left ACL and will be out for up to 6 months. Williams suffered the same knee injury while with the Flyers in 2003, missed 31 games, and then came back for the playoffs.

Since being traded to Carolina, Williams has become an All-Star and was a fixture on the Hurricanes' 2006 Stanley Cup team.

About that awful tie

The Flyers, 76ers, and Phantoms will find a home for all unwanted holiday gifts this year (sounds as if they're reinventing the "Island of Misfits Toys") and will exchange them for a chance at game tickets.

The Flyers, 76ers, and Phantoms will find a home for all unwanted holiday gifts this year (sounds as if they're reinventing the "Island of Misfits Toys") and will exchange them for a chance at game tickets.

"Unfortunately, in this time of giving there are those who are less fortunate and, collectively, we would like to do our part to make it a better holiday in the Greater Philadelphia Region," said Comcast-Spectacor president Peter Luukko.

Bring the gifts to the Sixers' game against Miami on Wednesday, the Flyers' game with Toronto on Thursday, or the Phantoms game with Binghamton at the Wachovia Spectrum on Friday to exchange them for a coupon book that features special offers, including tickets and skate passes to the various Skate Zones. *

Send e-mail to morane@phillynews.com