PURISTS CAN breathe easy.

Homework will be done, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said, but hockey will not be undergoing any major changes this summer. Overtime will not be revamped, despite a cry from general managers at this week's meetings in Florida to decrease the number of shootouts.

If Flyers veterans Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell are any representation of their peers, players are fine with that. The game has to end sometime, Timonen said Tuesday.

Let's suppose, for a second, that the NHL would be open to change. Why not be bold and think outside the box?

Skill should remain the focus, like it is during shootouts. Fans and broadcast rights holders love the shootout - which provides a quick way to produce a winner in a dramatic fashion while conforming to time restraints. That's why it isn't going anywhere.

Hockey is the ultimate team sport, though. And the typical shootout - which ends nearly 13 percent of games since 2005 - involves less than a quarter of the roster.

Extending overtime from its current 5 minutes of four-on-four play to an additional 5 minutes of three-on-three play should a goal not be scored will not fix the problem. It's not real hockey, anyway.

Rather than continuing to invent tweaks to avoid the shootout, why not remove it all together? It's possible, though, the NHL's brain trust hasn't considered every option.

I can't even take credit for this one brilliant idea that came from a reader, Steve, from Cherry Hill, who dropped a four-sentence bomb in my inbox that got my mind racing yesterday. He proposed an overtime setup not all that different from NCAA football - where teams trade possessions until one is able to score either a touchdown or field goal while successfully defending an attempt to match.

Doing it Steve's way, each team would be given 2 minutes to score on a five-on-three power play. The only way to win would be to score in a 2-minute sequence and then back it up with a successful penalty kill. If both teams score, the sequence would be restarted. A shorthanded goal, though rare, would immediately end the game. No TV timeouts and just a 30-second break would be needed between sequences, which with a goal would not require the full 2 minutes.

A quick look at the data suggests that a winner would be produced pretty quickly. Even the longest of overtimes in this case probably wouldn't require more than three sequences to decide a game. Teams are much more likely to score than they are on a regular power play, where the league average is 17.3 percent. This season, there have been 83 goals scored in 283 five-on-three advantages (29.3 percent leaguewide). That number is actually on the lower than it may appear, since teams sometimes have only 15-30 seconds on five-on-three play before a penalty expires, yet those situations are still counted as five-on-three opportunities. Every team except for the Stars and Sabres has scored five-on-three this season.

No scenario is perfect. But Steve's setup would solve a lot of the shootout's problems - and the fears of general managers around the league. Yes, star players would be playing additional time in overtime, but there is far less skating and hitting in a five-on-three situation. Almost every player on the roster - from the star scorer to the gritty penalty killer to the gutty goalie - would be involved in the outcome of overtime. Specialists would be rewarded. Coaches can get creative. And teams may benefit in regulation play from the practice. This way, we could actually decide hockey games with real hockey.

Slap shots

Yesterday, the Flyers enjoyed one of their CBA-mandated 4 days off this month . . . The Flyers loaned forward Kris Newbury, acquired last summer in a minor league trade, to AHL Hershey yesterday and received forward Derek Whitmore on loan from the Bears . . . The NHL's draft combine received a lot of attention yesterday at the GM meetings. GMs are concerned that too many teams are bringing in prospects for unsanctioned physicals after the Central Scouting combine in Toronto and May - and penalties may be increased to ensure a level playing field for all 30 teams.



5: Percent of the 562 players in Flyers franchise history (31) to play 500 games with the club, a mark Scott Hartnell hit on Tuesday night against New Jersey.

29-15-6: Flyers' record over their last 50 games.

9-6-2: Approximate record the Flyers would need to accumulate the estimated 20 points required to make the playoffs.

29: Goals scored by Flyers defensemen this season: Mark Streit (8), Andrej Meszaros (5), Braydon Coburn (5), Kimmo Timonen (4), Luke Schenn (4), Erik Gustafsson (2), Nick Grossmann (1), Andrew MacDonald (zero as a Flyer).

2009-10: Last season in which the Flyers (32) last broke the 30-goal plateau by defensemen, the Olympic year when they also reached the Stanley Cup final.

21.84: Percent of power plays on which the Flyers have scored since Jan. 1, which is fifth in the NHL, according to @bhawksfanjen.


vs. Pittsburgh

Saturday, 1 o'clock

After losing four of five games, the limping Penguins have righted themselves with three straight wins, including two against the Capitals. Pittsburgh is without defensemen Kris Letang (stroke) and Paul Martin (hand), but they've found a way to maintain their large margin in the Metropolitan Division standings. This back-to-back Keystone clash will go a long way toward determining confidence for either team, should they end up meeting in the playoffs for the second time in 3 years.

at Pittsburgh

Sunday, 12:30 p.m.

Will Ray Emery be healthy enough to back up Steve Mason for the second half of a back-to-back? Emery dealt the Penguins one of their four regulation losses at home this season back on Nov. 13. The Flyers are 9-2-1 at Consol Energy Center since it opened in 2010, including playoff games.

vs. Chicago

Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.

The Flyers won't soon forget their 7-2 shellacking at the hands of the Blackhawks on national television back on Dec. 11. But this is seemingly a different, more composed Flyers team since that bipolar, 2-3-1 road trip. Not much has changed, though, for the 'Hawks, who are an impressive 18-8-7 away from the Madhouse on Madison.

vs. Dallas

Thursday, 7 o'clock

Forward Rich Peverley will be sidelined for the remainder of the season following his scary collapse on the bench Monday due to a heart condition. The pesky Stars are still very much in the hunt in the Western Conference, clinging to the final wild-card spot thanks to three straight wins.

Blog: ph.ly/FrequentFlyers