VANCOUVER - It might be just repetition, but practice really counts for something.

And for the Flyers, not having any has been a problem. With the schedule, the holidays and all the travel, the Flyers had not had an extended practice since Dec. 19 - until yesterday, that is.

"Finally, a practice," a sweat-soaked Jeff Carter said. "It's been a while, but it felt good to get out there and get back to basics. I can't remember the last time we practiced.

"I think with the couple of days off and no practice we kind of got away from what we were doing. Kind of just got sloppy and we weren't playing our system, weren't playing our style."

Not playing their style is an understatement. The Flyers have lived on a high-scoring offense built off solid defense, and they had neither in the first two games of this six-game trip.

The result has been some lopsided hockey and lost points.

They will finally catch a team on equal footing tonight when they play Vancouver, which has been struggling but is coming off Sunday night's win against Ottawa.

The Flyers played in Columbus Saturday without top defender Kimmo Timonen (right ankle chip fracture) and Matt Carle (right ankle bone bruise), but both look to be back in the lineup tonight.

They skated the full practice yesterday and, although sore, both felt they could play. Of the two, Timonen sounded more sure.

"It's sore but I'll probably give it a shot," he said. "I'll see how it feels in the morning after the skate . . . We have good trainers. They know how to put guys back on the ice.

"It feels better than I thought. I'll wear padding inside . . . but we'll see."

Having Timonen back means more than just a big-minute defenseman: He's a top penalty killer and a power-play quarterback and his calm leadership has an overall effect on the team.

"His demeanor and his calm is sorely missed," coach John Stevens said. "He just seems to settle everybody down. Our whole back end seems to have more composure when he plays.

"He's obviously a big factor in both the power play and the penalty-kill, so we're asking a lot from other guys in his absence with every situation he plays in."

Having healthy defensemen back will help, but not as much as having a practice, Stevens said.

"We're not making excuses," he said. "Just objectively looking at it from where we're at, we know we have to play a lot better. But it wasn't just one or two guys. We looked like we lacked energy across our whole team," he said.

"We practiced Monday before the game against Colorado [Dec. 16] then went to Montreal and came back and had a 30-minute practice on Friday [Dec. 19] before the two afternoon games, and then finished up Tuesday with the game against Ottawa," Stevens said.

"Then we had the travel problems coming in, so practice times have really been a premium which we haven't been able to have. We knew those first two games would be tough. The fact that we weren't able to skate just put us behind the eight-ball and we looked like a sluggish team." *