The Flyers' 5-2 win over Tampa Bay on Wednesday was a microcosm of their inconsistent season.

In the first and third periods, they outshot the Lightning by a combined 32-19. Their passing was sharp, their forechecking persistent, their disciplined approach impressive.

For those 40 minutes, the Flyers, playing with their third-string goalie, outscored the Lightning, 5-0, and looked like the team general manager Paul Holmgren had envisioned in the off-season.

Ah, but that middle period showed why the Flyers, who entered last night five points out of a playoff spot, are huffing and puffing just to get to .500. Sloppy passing, coupled with senseless penalties, helped Tampa outshoot them, 14-4, and outscore them, 2-0.

So which Flyers team will we see in the season's second half? The one that, on any given night, can play with the league's elite? (See their two wins over New Jersey.) Or the one that looked listless and inept in last week's 4-1 loss to less-than-overwhelming Florida?

"Each person has to look at themselves individually and worry about doing his job," veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "If we do that, we're going to be a good team."

Because of injuries, the goalie situation has been a merry-go-round of participants. Even so, that hasn't been the team's albatross.

That distinction belongs to an offense that entering last night had produced a total of nine goals in the last 10 losses.

There is, however, a glimmer of hope. When Darroll Powe returned from a shoulder injury Wednesday, the Flyers were playing with their top 12 forwards for the first time this season.

In the four-game stretch that started Dec. 17, the Flyers' lineup was bolstered by the return of Blair Betts, Simon Gagne, and Powe, three players who had been sidelined for long periods.

It will take time for all of them to regain their legs, get into top shape, and find their rhythm. But Betts and Gagne are almost there - witness Betts' two goals and Gagne's constant buzzing around the net and his two points, including an empty-net goal, in the win at Tampa.

Powe's speed is a much-needed element and makes him well-suited to play new coach Peter Laviolette's forecheck-and-attack system.

The trio's return has finally given the offense an identity. The Flyers have four lines with distinctive talents and are much more well-rounded.

The lines and some observations:

Mike Richards centering Simon Gagne and Claude Giroux. It's not the French Connection line suggested here last week. But it's close.

Richards has, at long last, been given two wingers who are more than just muckers. Much more. In their first game together, the trio combined for seven points.

Giroux had been the third-line center, but Laviolette moved him to right wing in the hope he will help the line develop some chemistry.

"He's a guy who has brought the tempo that you need to play," Laviolette said. "He's a young player, and there's mistakes [he makes], but mistakes are going to happen through the course of the game, and it also means you're trying plays and trying to make things happen. Hopefully, he's a good fit and strengthens that line."

Jeff Carter centering Scott Hartnell and Danny Briere. On paper, this unit has 100-goal potential. On the ice, it entered last night on a pace for just 72. Perhaps if Richards' new line continues to emerge and gets more attention from defensive specialists, that will open things up for this struggling trio.

Darroll Powe centering James van Riemsdyk and Arron Asham. Powe is a speedy grinder who could help van Riemsdyk and Asham break long slumps. Before last night, vanRiemsdyk had one goal in his last 18 games, and Asham hadn't scored in 24 straight.

Blair Betts centering Dan Carcillo and Ian Laperriere. The LCB Line Part II was reunited at Tampa and was a combined plus-6 with five points. This is a line that produces energy, defense, and grit. And even some bursts of offense. It is not a coincidence that the Flyers began last night 11-5-1 with Betts in the lineup and 5-13-1 without him.

Inside the Flyers:

Read Sam Carchidi's Flyers blog,

"Broad Street Bull," at http://go.philly.com/sports

Blog response of the week

Subject: Goalie turnover.

Posted by: mrjarn at 7:46 p.m. on Dec. 19.

Martin Brodeur has been with the Devils for, what, over 16 years now? How many goalies have the Flyers had in that same time span? Not in chronological order - Hextall, Vanbiesbrouck, Boucher, Niittymaki, Snow, Cechmanek, Emery, Biron, Roussel, Pelletier, Ouellet, Little, Esche. I'm sure I missed out on a couple more. Talk about instability . . .

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