With five losses in their last six games, the Flyers entered last night ninth in the NHL's Eastern Conference and well aware they were underachieving.

"Everyone knows we should be better than we've shown and the amount of points that we've picked up," forward Danny Briere said after yesterday's practice in Voorhees.

"We've had a couple of stretches of bad games, and that's what we have to eliminate," he said. "We definitely should not be where we are with this team."

Briere has missed the last three games - two because of an NHL-mandated suspension and one because of the flu. He was back at practice yesterday and will return to the lineup Thursday against visiting Vancouver.

His return is welcomed. Without him, the Flyers had a total of four goals in the three games. Briere is second on the team with 10 goals, even though he has played in only 17 of the 24 contests.

"You don't change a team with one guy, but I hope I can help out in that department. That's my game, the offensive side," said Briere, who will try to ignite a power play that has failed in its last nine chances.

"Goals have been tougher to come lately, but there's always stretches like that in a season," he said. "You have to try to go back to the basics.

"We put a lot of pucks on net in Atlanta, but maybe [we should be] trying to get around the goalie a little more, trying to screen a little more - get our noses dirty in that area to find loose pucks instead of giving the goalie a chance to see everything."

The losing has created questions about John Stevens' job security, though owner Ed Snider said yesterday through a team spokesman that the coach's position was not in jeopardy.

"We're concentrating on trying to win games," Briere said. "We can't start worrying about guys getting traded or people getting fired. That's another game. We have no control over that. All we can do is control what we do on the ice.

"We know we have to be better, every single one of us - right now, in the department of scoring goals. At other times, it's discipline. Other times, it's defensive [problems]. But right now, it's offensively. We have to be a little more hungry."

In their last two games, the Flyers lost despite a healthy advantage in shots. They were stymied by the brilliant goaltending of Buffalo's Ryan Miller and Atlanta's Johan Hedberg.

"We've had chances around the net, but instead of putting it in the net, you wait a half second and put it in his glove," right winger Ian Laperriere said. "That's the way it is now. It's not a lack of wanting it. Maybe sometimes you want it too much and you don't make the play."

Stevens said he wouldn't change his style to try to get his team out of its funk.

"To fly off the handle and do something out of character [because] of frustration isn't going to help anybody, although I do think we're demanding and we need to be demanding now," Stevens said. "Playing good and losing isn't good enough."

Gagne returns. For the first time since he had abdominal and hernia surgery early last month, forward Simon Gagne practiced with the team.

"I was surprised he was able to move as well as he did and able to participate in most of the practice," Stevens said.

Gagne said he could return in two weeks, but general manager Paul Holmgren said three weeks was more likely.

"I feel everything is in place, and I don't have that pain I felt before," Gagne said.

Goalie decision. Brian Boucher's strong play recently - he has a 1.45 goals-against average in his last four games - has given Stevens a reason to pause on announcing his goalie for Thursday. Ray Emery has a 4.71 goals-against average in his last four starts.

Stevens said he would decide later in the week.

Breakaways. Forward Scott Hartnell and defenseman Kimmo Timonen were given yesterday off. . . . Forward Jared Ross, who missed the last game with a head injury, was sent to the AHL's Phantoms. . . . The Phantoms will return to Philadelphia for one game, facing Norfolk at 7 p.m. Friday at the Wachovia Center.