Perhaps it's not hard to explain the Flyers' six-game losing streak.

In October, the team was committed to defense. In December, the Flyers seem to have lost that commitment.

In October, when the Flyers were 7-3-0 and third in the Eastern Conference, their goal differential was plus-19. For December, the Flyers are 2-6-2 with a minus-5 goal differential.

Their goal differential for the season is just plus-4. The Flyers have given up 102 goals, the second-highest total in the Atlantic Division, behind Pittsburgh's 108. New Jersey, the leading defensive team in the East, has given up just 85.

Is it any wonder that the Devils kicked the Flyers out of first place in the division? Moreover, the Flyers had fallen to a tie for 12th in the conference entering last night's action. They host the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight.

"Our commitment to defense early on is what really made the difference," coach John Stevens said. "We talked to the team today [and] broke down our last 10 games," discussing goals-against.

The penalty-killing "has given up too many goals of late, and our five-on-five play has not been where we want it to be," he said.

During December, the Flyers have killed only 78.6 percent of their penalties, allowing 12 goals on 56 chances.

Stevens said his team lacked "a sense of urgency" in several aspects of its game. Unless the Flyers turn things around quickly, they could be in serious trouble by the all-star break.

Only four points separated them from fourth-seeded Boston, but the Flyers have been floundering for more than a month.

"Our biggest thing is, we have to play hard every night - play hard and work hard," defenseman Derian Hatcher said. "That sounds easy. I think we've been waiting for teams to see what kind of game it would be before we started to play."

Stevens wants his team to initiate the play instead of reacting to it.

"We're not happy where we are as a group," captain Jason Smith said. "We all know when we execute and work at the level we need to, we can play with any team in the league and get the results we want. We have to find that edge where we do that 60 minutes a night."

On paper, the Flyers are light-years better than last season, but at times they look just as inconsistent.

The Flyers have 16 wins, twice as many as they had after 34 games last season. But something is still missing.

Hatcher and others are hoping the three-day holiday break reenergizes the team.

"We're on a little slide right now - we've struggled with inconsistency the last couple months - but I look at our lineup and still love the look of our team," center Danny Briere said.

"How much speed we have, how physical we are, for me, [the slump] is almost hard to understand," he said, adding that he hoped the break "was the perfect thing to happen for us now, where we can step back, reenergize. . . .

"We're making it tough on ourselves. You come to a point where it will be too late and games won't mean anything anymore."

Gagne update.

A January return is the most likely scenario for left winger Simon Gagne, who is recovering from a concussion. Stevens called his availability this weekend in Florida "a long shot," and Gagne did not dispute that. The winger said he still had discomfort in his head and neck, which nullified any chance of playing.

"I'm headed in the right direction," said Gagne, who was injured on Nov. 7. "I feel good on the ice. My conditioning is starting to be better."

Loose pucks.

Flyers prospect

James vanRiemsdyk

, a left winger, scored a goal and added an assist in a 5-1 win over Kazakstan at the world junior championships in the Czech Republic. He was named the U.S. player of the game.

Contact staff writer Tim Panaccio

at 215-854-2847 or tpanaccio@phillynews.com.