OTTAWA - Somewhere in New York, Brendan Shanahan is trying to make up his mind about where he wants to play hockey.

If he wants, he can come to the Flyers. The offer is out there. No one in team management has said so officially, other than to state they are serious about having him, but if he calls today the phone will be answered.

If there was any question that the Flyers need a change - something, anything - to shake some energy into their legs, there should be no question now.

The Flyers had nothing last night when they went into Scotiabank Place - no defense, no goaltending, no forecheck, no life - and by the time they found themselves, it was too late. They lost to the Ottawa Senators, 4-1.

"The first period we got behind and they're a good defensive team," said Flyers coach John Stevens. "They're almost like Jersey right now. They get a lead and then we get a 5-minute penalty and we're taxing our key players and we're playing catch-up. It's a hard way to win."

And it was.

Antero Niittymaki was beaten by Anton Volchenkov 8:49 into the first period. Less than 4 minutes later, defenseman Braydon Coburn was handed a 5-minute major for boarding Antone Vermette in front of the Flyers' bench. Just 32 seconds later, at 12:42, Dany Heatley scored for a 2-0 Senators lead.

Arron Asham narrowed the deficit to a goal 7:18 into the second period, but the Flyers' momentum lasted less than a minute. Jesse Winchester scored at 8:14; Chris Neil's empty-net goal sealed the scoring.

Entering the game, it seemed there were only two ways it would go.

When general manager Paul Holmgren went off on his forwards after Sunday's loss to Edmonton and met with Shanahan on Monday to see if the free agent wanted a job, all attention turned negative.

Without a game to play between the Edmonton loss and last night, there was plenty of time to let the dark cloud hover in the locker room.

Either the players were going to react by playing a desperate, up-tempo game or they were going to come out like they did.

"Starts are a huge part of the game and tonight, for some reason, we didn't have it, we didn't get going,'' said forward Jeff Carter. "At times we played a little better and we showed that we can play, but it wasn't good enough. We didn't play.

"We've got to be ready. It's up to everybody in this room to be focused and be ready to play.''

To be fair, a veteran like Shanahan in the locker room might help. His shot certainly won't hurt. But his 39-year-old legs will not get up and down the ice with enough speed and pep to solve the problem on defense or the lethargy into which the Flyers fall in and out.

"It's not good,'' said defenseman Kimmo Timonen. "A 4-1 score. We played OK just here and there, but we've got to be better. It feels like we're repeating the same line all the time, but it looks like they wanted to win more than we did.

"Injuries happen and every team goes through that. We can't go behind that. We have a good enough team to win games, and you can see when we play good, they were struggling. But we need to play like that for 60 minutes to win games and it looks like we don't do that now."

With Ryan Parent and Randy Jones, two of the preseason's top rotation defensemen, injured, and Ossi Vaananen sidelined with what sounds like a hand injury, the Flyers' depth on the blue line was exposed.

Steve Eminger fell down twice, once on the power play at the blue line, giving Dean McAmmond a breakaway, and one time while defending one-on-one against Christoph Schubert.

Schubert walked around the tumbling defenseman but he lost the puck at his feet in the crease and was leveled by Mike Richards.

Eminger said he thought the ice was a problem.

"Both times it felt like I was skating on cement," he said.

Lasse Kukkonen, playing in only his fourth game, turned the puck over repeatedly. Yet he played 18 minutes and 23 seconds.

What more needs to be said about the state of the defense than to point out that 18-year-old Luca Sbisa had the most minutes in the game going into the third period and played 22:12, edged only by Timonen.

The Flyers need more than just a free-agent forward.

"I've seen guys coming in and guys going out and that's part of the business, especially now," Timonen said. "I don't think [this is] where we want to be.

"You start looking around the room and see if we can improve somewhere and maybe [Shanahan] is the key to do something, leadership or whatever.

"But I've seen this happen many times before and it doesn't do anything negative in the room. [Holmgren] is just trying to do something to help us.

"I don't think we are where we want to be, so whatever happens, we've got live with that." *