THE PESSIMIST walks away from last night's debacle at the Wells Fargo Center and says the Flyers got what they deserved after looking past the 28th-place Florida Panthers in a classic "trap game" before an 8-day layoff.

The optimist looks at the old-fashioned, 5-0 whupping and says the Flyers needed a wakeup call heading into their holiday hibernation after reeling off a 10-1-3 run.

The realist looks at the drubbing and says it is the product of an 82-game marathon season.

No matter which way you look at it, the only happy people who walked out into the cold South Philadelphia night were the members of the Panthers' traveling party after the Flyers were embarrassed for the first time on home ice this season.

After all, for a team that leads the NHL in points, there hasn't been much to boo about this year. Last night was not only the Flyers' largest margin of defeat all season but just their first regulation loss since Dec. 1.

"There is a fine line in this league between winning and not winning," veteran blue-liner Sean O'Donnell said. "We got exactly what we deserved. We got outworked. You'd think as professional athletes that you come and you play hard 82 nights, but there is some nights where it's just [not there].

"We weren't able to get up for this game. It shouldn't happen, but it did. We're human beings."

The loss also snapped the Flyers' five-game winning streak that included wins over some of the East Conference's best teams: Pittsburgh, Boston, Montreal and the New York Rangers.

The Flyers were outworked by Florida from the puck drop until the final whistle - and made Tomas Vokoun (26 saves) look like a Vezina Trophy candidate in his first career shutout against Philadelphia.

"I think we thought it would be a cake walk here before Christmas and they would give us an early Christmas present with the two points," Scott Hartnell said. "Obviously, they were hungry. When you add these things up, it equals an embarrassing loss for us at home."

The Flyers have led the league all season in 5-on-5 goals-for and goals-against ratio. Last night, all five of Florida's goals came at even strength - as the Panthers' 30th-ranked power play looked about as deadly as the Panthers did on paper before the game. Heading into last night, the Panthers' leading scorer - Michael Frolik - had just eight goals and the team had no players in double-digit scoring. The Flyers had eight players with at least eight goals in the first 34 games.

"It's disappointing, that's for sure," Mike Richards said. "I guess the timing couldn't be any worse. We wanted to get that win and go into the break on a little bit of a high note.

"You wanted to go into the break feeling good about yourself. This is definitely going to leave a bitter taste in your mouth."

Sergei Bobrovsky was pulled after Florida's fourth goal, leaving Brian Boucher to mop up the mess for the remaining 26-plus minutes of the game. While it was far from Bobrovsky's best performance of the season, allowing four goals on 22 shots, it would be unfair to pinpoint him as the reason for the loss.

"I think it would be impossible to isolate anyone," coach Peter Laviolette said. "I don't think our team performed very well. Our group needs to be better and we've been better. We've had a good run to this point, but we didn't play at our best or at the level that we need to, and Florida came in and they outworked us."

The loss will simmer as the Flyers take their longest break of the season between games. Some players said that might not be such a bad thing after playing near perfection, earning 15 of the first 18 available points in December.

"Maybe it will be a good thing," Boucher said, playing the role of the optimist. "We were rolling along pretty good and now we lose pretty bad here at home. We've got a break and we've done some good things obviously over this time here before Christmas but certainly not the way we wanted to finish before our Christmas break.

"I think we know what we did wrong tonight, there were no X's and O's things. Our compete level wasn't where it needed to be and I think that's something every guy can agree with."

Laviolette couldn't take anything positive from the loss.

"I'm not sure getting shutout in your building is such a good thing," Laviolette said. "I'm failing to see the silver lining."

Come April, if the Flyers are still sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference, this game will be one to laugh about. But there probably won't be much laughter at today's practice, the Flyers' last until Dec. 26 in Vancouver. Their next game is Dec. 28 against the Canucks.

"It was the worst game of the year, by far," Kimmo Timonen said. "I think there is a lesson to be learned, every game you have to be focused and prepared. [Last night] it looked like we were already unfocused. We were already on the break."

Slap shots

The Flyers head into the Christmas break with a 22-8-5 record, which is identical to their record in 2005-06. Other than that year, the last time the Flyers had this many wins at Christmas was 1986-87, when they were 25-8-2 at the break . . . The Flyers are not home again until Jan. 8, as they play nine of their next 10 games on the road.

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