You don't have to be a descendant of Fred Shero to figure out what the Flyers need to do most: improve the defense.

And, though it might seem strange, they are tinkering with the idea of adding one of the great offensive players in history, Brendan Shanahan, to reduce the number of goals they are allowing.

Shanahan, 39, a free-agent winger with 680 career goals, had a lengthy discussion with Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren yesterday.

Holmgren lauded Shanahan's efforts as a two-way player and said his defense would help the Flyers.

"He gets it," Holmgren said.

Holmgren said he never discussed salary with Shanahan, who scored 23 goals for the New York Rangers last season. With the Flyers only about $700,000 under the $56.7 million cap, the club would have to be creative to sign Shanahan, even if he signed for a bargain-basement price of, say, $1 million.

"It's just very exploratory, on Brendan's part and on our part," Holmgren said. "But if you have an opportunity to add a good player who doesn't cost you any assets, you have to look into it. He's an experienced player and has been on three Stanley Cup champions, and his presence on the ice and in the locker room would be invaluable."

In their seven losses, including two in overtime and one in a shoot-out, the Flyers have allowed 4.7 goals a game.

In their four wins, they have surrendered 1.4 goals a game.

"We have to do a better job of checking," coach John Stevens said after the Flyers' 5-4 setback Sunday against an Edmonton team that had been struggling to score.

"To me, it is pretty black and white," Stevens said.

"When we don't forecheck hard, we're not a very good team," defenseman Kimmo Timonen said.

With four new defensemen, it figures to take a while for the blueliners to get in sync. For the most part, their development has been encouraging since the team's season-starting six-game losing streak.

Stevens has been particularly pleased with the recent play of Steve Eminger, who has overcome a shaky start.

"I think putting him on the power play has given him confidence and has carried over into other parts of his game," Stevens said.

Eminger and Andrew Alberts, the team's third defensive pairing, were not on the ice for any of Edmonton's goals. Oddly, the top pairing of Timonen and Braydon Coburn was on the ice for all five Oilers scores.

Said Stevens: "You just have to learn from it and move on, and gear up for the next challenge."

That would be Thursday at Ottawa.

The Flyers will try to continue their superb work on the power play, where they are a sizzling 12 for 27 (44.4 percent) in their last six games.

The Flyers lead the league with 3.91 goals a game and have the league's No. 3 power play, successfully converting 25.9 percent of their opportunities.

On the flip side, they have allowed 3.64 goals a game, placing them 27th among 30 teams.

As Stevens said, it's pretty black and white.

But not pretty.

Gagne honored. The NHL named left winger Simon Gagne the league's third star of the week, after he totaled three goals and five assists in three games. His eight goals for the season placed him in a tie for fourth in the league entering last night.

Asked if he felt 100 percent healthy, Gagne, who has battled concussions, said: "I don't know.  The more I play, the more I will get comfortable and be able to be more of myself.  But right now, I have to say I am feeling pretty good."

Sharing his past. Center Glen Metropolit read stories aloud and discussed how he overcame challenges - such as growing up in foster care in underprivileged neighborhoods - with children from the Police Athletic League of Philadelphia's homework program.

He also emphasized the importance of education, literacy and involvement.

Breakaways. The Flyers reassigned forwards Steve Downie and Jared Ross to the Phantoms. Both were scoreless this season. . . . Entering last night, forward Jeff Carter was tied for second in the NHL with nine goals. . . . Marty Biron's 3.79 goals-against average was 39th in the league. . . . A bright spot Sunday: The Flyers won 66 percent of their face-offs - the second time all season they had outdrawn their opponents.