ABOUT A THIRD of the way through their season, the Flyers' woeful record in road games in rivaled by only a select few of the NHL's other 29 teams. Only three wins in 15 games away from the Wells Fargo Center plays a big part in their sixth-place Metropolitan Division standing.

And so these next four games, each against Eastern Conference teams and, more important, each at home in South Philly, are crucial for the Flyers (9-13-5). A chunk of points over the next 8 days is much-needed, especially considering another long road trip looms, this one of the seasonlong, eight-game variety.

"They're huge for us," forward Michael Raffl said. "We need those points. No matter what."

First up tonight are the Devils (11-13-5), who haven't played so great lately themselves. Their 27 points place them fifth in the division, four points ahead of the orange and black. New Jersey claimed the first of four season meetings between these teams, 6-4, way back on Oct. 9.

Entering last night's slate of games, the Flyers were seven points out of a playoff spot after their 1-2-2 road trip. They lead the Blue Jackets (10-15-2) by only a point after Tuesday's 3-2 overtime loss at Nationwide Arena.

"We have to get a couple wins," rookie center Scott Laughton said. "I thought we were playing better on that road trip. We started to come together and we were playing better. Columbus, we played a good third period, and we've got to bring that into [tonight] against New Jersey."

The Devils have lost seven of their last nine games and 13 of their last 18. Three of their last seven defeats have come in shootouts, including Tuesday night's, when they fell, 3-2, against the Central Division-leading Blackhawks.

New Jersey's Keith Kinkaid, making his first NHL start, turned away 37 of 39 Chicago shots to help the Devils grab a point. He was spelling starter Cory Schneider in the second of back-to-back games.

For the Flyers, who are 6-4-2 at home opposed to 3-9-3 on the road, tonight's game is the first of consecutive contests against sub-.500 teams in their division. The last-place Hurricanes visit Saturday afternoon before games against the Lightning and Panthers next week.

"To me, I look at where we're at and we have a real good opportunity starting [tonight] to make a lot of ground," Flyers coach Craig Berube said. "That's the way I look at it."

Slap shots

Vincent Lecavalier, a healthy scratch four consecutive games, said yesterday he hasn't received any indication when he will return to the lineup. The embattled 16-year vet and about 10 other Flyers participated in yesterday's optional practice at the Skate Zone in Voorhees . . . Though Scott Laughton is likely here to stay, the 20-year-old center still approaches practices and games as if he's on a day-to-day tryout to maintain his spot with the big club. "I'm going to work as hard as I can every day," he said. "That's my goal. Maybe down the road, I'll be more comfortable, but you should never be really, really comfortable." . . . The Flyers' penalty kill dropped back down to 29th in the league after the Blue Jackets went 2-for-4 with a man advantage against them on Tuesday . . . Claude Giroux entered last night's games leading all NHL forwards in ice time per game with 21:55 . . . Matt Read has just one goal in the last 20 games . . . Jaromir Jagr, 42 years young, leads the Devils in points with 17 . . . New Jersey has killed off 44 of its last 48 penalties . . . The Flyers were 12-13-2 at this point last season.

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