IN SUNDAY'S overtime loss to Pittsburgh, coach Peter Laviolette liked what he saw in the Flyers' defensive zone, but said "it could be better."
On Tuesday night, it got worse.
Perhaps the only way to cure what ails the Flyers - the same thing that has been their downfall all season: downright bad defense - is by beefing up the blue line.
Last week, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren and director of hockey ops Chris Pryor created buzz in their native Minnesota by scouting both the WCHA's Final Five tournament and the Wild's home game against San Jose.
After Sharks GM Doug Wilson unloaded defenseman Douglas Murray to Pittsburgh on Monday, many pointed toward veteran blue liner Dan Boyle and linked him to the Flyers.
Turns out, Boyle was simply the red herring. Instead, the Flyers' brass wanted a closer look at Brent Burns, among others.
After the Flyers' lifeless shellacking against the Rangers on Tuesday night, which dropped them seven points back of a playoff spot, it's probably unlikely that Holmgren will have as much urgency to make a move in the short term.
Whether or not it's Burns the Flyers are truly targeting, it won't be at all surprising to see Holmgren go after a defenseman. The pending free-agent market isn't impressive; Edmonton's Ladislav Smid might be the best name, and the Oilers are trying to find a way to keep him.
Burns, 28, signed a 5-year, $28.8 million deal before this season in San Jose. He played the first six seasons of his career in Minnesota. Unlike Boyle, who is 36, Burns would be a player who could be part of the turn toward the future.
Well, that is, if Burns actually can play defense. He's spent the last eight games since returning from injury playing at first-line right wing with Joe Thornton. It's not exactly a foreign position for Burns, who played forward for a bit in the AHL under coach Todd McLellan, and also skated alongside Jeff Carter and Ryan Getzlaf in the 2004 World Juniors for Canada.
It makes sense that the Sharks would be interested in moving the 6-5 Burns, who has a $5.76 million cap hit, and has been an unmitigated disaster on defense since arriving. San Jose's Eastern Conference scout, Jason Rowe, attended Tuesday's game against New York.
Maybe the Flyers view Burns as a reclamation project, even though they really need a surer hand. Burns has all the tools - size, shot, skating and personality - but he hasn't been able to hone his hockey sense. The Wild has been better without Burns, and play in the defensive zone has been a whole lot less chaotic.
Clearly, Holmgren is perusing the market. Whether he adds before next Wednesday's trade deadline or in the offseason, the blue line will be the major target. It's just a matter of who and when.
Former Flyers assistant coach Wayne Fleming, a dedicated hockey man, lost his battle with brain cancer on Monday. He was 62. Fleming spent three seasons with the Flyers from 2002-06 under Ken Hitchcock. Fleming also worked for five other NHL teams, along with his notable work with Hockey Canada, where he was an assistant for Canada's gold-medal team in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
"Wayne was the perfect assistant coach for . . . well, it didn't matter what coach," said Simon Gagne, who was on that 2002 Olympic team.
Fleming most recently worked for Tampa Bay in 2010. When Hitchcock won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year with St. Louis, he dedicated the award to Fleming.
"The Philadelphia Flyers are deeply saddened with the news of the loss of Wayne Fleming today," the Flyers said in a statement. "The hockey world lost a great friend, a wonderful human being and a terrific hockey mind. We send our condolences to Wayne's wife, Carolyn, their four children and the rest of the Fleming family."