NEW YORK - When the Rangers picked Sean Avery off the waiver wire from Dallas, they were looking for him to add offense and cause problems for opposing teams.

They got both from the previously banned loudmouth in the Flyers' 4-1 loss in Madison Square Garden yesterday afternoon. But just how much of a problem he was was a matter of opinion between coach John Stevens and his players.

Stevens thought Avery got his players riled up in the opening minutes and kept them going throughout the game.

"I just thought we got emotionally wrapped up in the wrong areas of the game, like some of the calls," he said. "Avery obviously came out and started picking on guys like [Jeff] Carter and those kinds of things and we just got riled up and stopped playing in between the whistles."

"I totally disagree," Carter said. "Sure he scored two goals, he's a good player. First goal he made a good play, second goal he taps it in with one hand, but other than that he didn't say a word. I really don't think he did anything.

"[Stevens] said the same thing to us . . . The guy didn't say a word. [Avery] said a little something when we were changing [lines] there but other than that, that's hockey."

Avery was being a pain which is what he's expected to be, and it had the desired effect on the Flyers and the crowd, but he can't be given credit for the Flyers putting the Rangers up a man nine times, allowing them to score three power-play goals and playing shorthanded for what amounted to three-quarters of a period.

When Braydon Coburn was called for punching/slashing the back of Nik Antropov's head and was given a match penalty at the end of the second period, that put the Flyers in a hole from which they did not recover.

Whether the penalty was warranted or it was an overreaction to the discussion the general managers had in Florida last week about their concern for head shots, or that the game was being played on national television, didn't matter.

But it might today when the league reviews the call to determine if it wants to assess further punishment to the Flyers' defenseman. It won't help that Coburn said after the game that he was retaliating for a slash Antropov had given him earlier.

"I got a pretty good slash in the face from him," Coburn said. "Then we had another shove there and he started skating towards me and I put my stick out to protect myself . . . He kind of came at me and I kind of reacted and I kind of got him in the neck there.

"It was kind of a glove, stick combination. But it was definitely my top hand. It was kind of retaliation. But I was kind of protecting myself against him coming at me again."

Retaliation or not, Avery or not, whether the coach was right or the players, the Flyers' performance yesterday was a far cry from the one they turned in on Saturday at the Wachovia Center.

After beating New York, 4-2, in a disciplined effort, they came to New York for the first of a four-game road trip, acted stupid and lost.

They also lost Randy Jones for half of the third period and played with only four defensemen. Jones suffered what general manager Paul Holmgren said was either a hip or groin injury. Jones missed the first 2 1/2 months of the season recovering from hip surgery.

Holmgren said Jones is listed as day-to-day, but seemed to think it was not serious.

Avery started the game trying to get Carter off his game, getting in his face and whacking at his stick. The Flyers also took three minor penalties all on their own and the Rangers capitalized on the third.

Avery - who else? - got in front of Kimmo Timonen and tipped a Derek Morris point shot up and past Antero Niittymaki, giving the Rangers a 1-0 lead on the power play 18 minutes into the first period.

The Flyers tied the game on the next power play. Mike Richards shot from the blue line and Simon Gagne redirected it from high above the slot to tie the game at 1-1, 4 minutes, 32 seconds into the second period.

But then the Flyers got pinned in their zone and the result was another penalty and another Rangers' goal, by Antropov, 8:27 into the second. The penalties just kept coming and then got worse when Coburn hit Antropov in the head .

The third period started with the Flyers killing a power play and down a top defenseman, Coburn. The result was a 3-1 New York lead when Scott Gomez got a puck across the crease and behind Ryan Parent. Parent tried to sweep the puck from the net but put it in instead.

Avery was right there and was credited with the goal.

Jones skated off the ice about 10 minutes in and the Flyers were suddenly down to four defensemen.

The Rangers scored their fourth goal of the game at even strength for a 4-1 lead midway through the third.

It was a bad way to end what could have been a great weekend for the Flyers, who allowed New York to stay within four points in a very tight Eastern Conference race.

The Flyers head to Detroit, where they will play the defending Stanley Cup champions tomorrow night before finishing the week in Buffalo on Friday and in Pittsburgh on Sunday.

"We've always been a good team after a loss," Richards said. "Kind of regrouped. We've played a lot of hockey lately. We have tonight, tomorrow and play Tuesday.

"We rest, regroup, go into Detroit and focus on them right now."

And as for the captain's opinion of the Avery effect?

"Disagree. I thought we took too many penalties," he said. "That's it. Took too many penalties; killing penalties takes a lot out of you.

"It's disappointing how undisciplined we were." *