Left winger Simon Gagne yesterday pointed to a players-only meeting in October as a reason the Flyers turned around their season.

Since losing their first six games - including three in which they picked up a point in overtime or a shoot-out - the Flyers have been one of the NHL's best teams, putting together a 14-4-3 record.

A meeting in Denver on Oct. 16, after a sloppy 5-2 loss to Colorado that coach John Stevens called "unacceptable," triggered a players' meeting that coincided with the turnaround.

The Flyers lost their next two games but picked up a point in each against powerful San Jose. They lost in overtime and in a shoot-out.

Still, they were on their way.

"We found our way, and now we're playing some great hockey the last 10 games," Gagne said after yesterday's optional practice in Voorhees.

On Nov. 15, the Flyers were 12 points behind the New York Rangers and eight behind the Pittsburgh Penguins. They entered last night tied for second place with the Penguins in the Atlantic Division, four points behind the Rangers.

"We had a meeting with Johnny [Stevens], but after that, the big one was with the players," said Gagne, who entered last night tied for fifth in the league with 33 points.

Gagne said that the meeting was "relaxed" and that players talked about taking responsibility for their specific positions.

"And from there, everybody has played better," he said. "There was no panic. It might be better if [the losing streak] happened in the beginning of the season than the end of the season."

Kimmo Timonen was extremely vocal at the meeting, and captain Mike Richards "kind of closed it," Gagne said. "A couple of guys spoke up, and from there, things are going well. We didn't have [another] meeting yet, so that's a good sign."

Asked if he saw a big difference in the club's attitude after its loss in Colorado, Stevens said, "I sure hope so. That was a real low point of the year for us. Even the games we lost early on were close games . . . but all of a sudden we went to Colorado and weren't even close, and I think it was a real wake-up call for all of us. We needed to start to tighten things up defensively and needed to play with a sense of urgency and be a lot harder team to play against. I think the players took ownership of that."

Carolina on their minds. Tonight, the host Flyers will play Carolina for the fourth time in eight games.

The Flyers are 2-0-1 against the Hurricanes.

Goalie Antero Niittymaki (2.44 goals-against average) will start tonight. He has defeated the 'Canes twice this season. In his last five games, Niittymaki is 4-1 with a 1.60 GAA and a .944 save percentage.

About 2,600 tickets remained yesterday for the game.

Carle update. Defenseman Matt Carle will miss his fifth straight game because of what general manager Paul Holmgren called an injury to the intercostal muscles between the ribs. Carle said the pain runs from his back to his ribs.

Carle, who is taking anti-inflammatory medication, skated yesterday at practice. He said there was no improvement in his condition.

"It's still pretty sore," he said. "It was the first time I did any drills . . . and it seemed like when I was defending two-on-one and extending myself, I could feel a little pull in there. I'm seeing a doctor to see if they can find anything. It's just really frustrating."

The Flyers are 3-0-1 in Carle's absence, with Lasse Kukkonen stepping in to take some of the defenseman's minutes.

Knuble bringing cheer. Winger Mike Knuble collected $7,500 from teammates, coaches and club personnel to purchase items that will be donated to the Camden Rescue Mission. The Mike Knuble Foundation and the Comcast-Spectacor Foundation are donating items to the mission, which provides shelter, clothes and counseling to people and families in need.

Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at 215-854-5181 or scarchidi@phillynews.com.