ST. LOUIS - Ron Hextall listened to the question and swallowed hard.
Will the Flyers begin to give younger players and unknown commodity prospects a shot at playing in the NHL over the next 31 days?
"Our goal is still to make the playoffs," Hextall responded. "Until we're officially out, that will continue to be our goal."
In his heart of hearts, there has to be a difference between what Hextall says publicly and what he truly believes. He is a numbers guy, someone who has studied the analytics. He knows that even a perfect 14-0-0 record will only give the Flyers about a 50-50 shot at making it.
Hextall, now 50, has a better chance of starting in net tonight against the Blues than that happening.
"We've shown how good we can be," Hextall said. "At times, we aren't very good. That's the frustrating part, because it's there. For myself, I evaluate things over the course of the year - not one game. [Sunday's loss in New Jersey] was predictable but it's not acceptable. But I'm not going to put too much into the last two games and come to some silly evaluation of where we are as a team."
Well, where exactly are the Flyers as a team?
They are a team that lacks identity. They are not fast. They are not physical. They are not young. They are not crafty. They do not move the puck well defensively. On top of all of those things, they are not an especially tough team to play against.
The Flyers are 21st in goals per game (2.57). They are 24th in goals-against (2.79). They are 21st in even-strength goal ratio (0.97). They are fourth in power play (22.4%), but 28th in penalty kill (76.5 percent). Their opponent has scored the first goal in 40 out of 68 games, ranking them 28th in that department.
Hextall refused to place blame at the foot of anyone yesterday, except to say "it's all of us."
"It's not on one individual, or the coaches, or myself, or just the players," Hextall said. "It's collectively. It's all of us. We've got to take a certain amount of responsibility."
The Flyers returned six 20-goal scorers from last season and dealt away another one (Scott Hartnell) to Columbus. With 14 games to play, only Jake Voracek (20) and Wayne Simmonds (26) have hit that mark. Claude Giroux (18) likely will. Brayden Schenn (12), Matt Read (six) and Vinny Lecavalier (seven) are a long way off.
Is that lack of production a product of Craig Berube's system?
"I don't think you can blame the system," Hextall said. "You can look at a lot of things: We need more from some guys. I do believe we've left goals on the table this year. I don't think we're hungry enough around the net."
Berube pointed to that willingness to go to "dirty areas" and also that the Flyers need to shoot the puck more. They are on-pace (2,020) to finish with nearly the exact same number of shots (2,490) as last season.
Hextall said he watched a game last week where a puck was left laying in the crease and "one of our guys was just standing there." He wouldn't name the player.
"If they're hungry to score, that puck's in the net," Hextall said. "That makes a big difference. That little difference is the difference between winning a game and being 10 points ahead. The difference right now is a lot. You've got to find a few little things and things will increase."
Hextall said the Flyers will attempt to "improve from within."
"There's no magic wand where you say 'OK, here's a 25-year-old Brett Hull, thank you very much,' " Hextall said. "Just to say you've got to add a big-time goal scorer, it's easier said than done. There's only so much you can do."
That part is true. Whether or not Hextall truly believes the Flyers can improve from within, with this current core of players, is another story. We won't know what he really thinks until June or July.
Hextall said the Flyers need to evaluate their leadership group, given their inconsistencies. That does not include the captaincy.
"Leadership doesn't come down to one guy anymore," Hextall said. "Those days are gone. It's a group."
Hextall believes the biggest change that needs to come from the Flyers is goal differential. They are currently 22nd in the league (minus-19). No team with a negative differential is a current playoff team.
"It's how you win games," Hextall said. "They go together. There's certain systems that will allow you to score a lot of goals, but you're also going to give up a lot of goals."
Hextall admitted he's already started thinking about the Flyers' training camp plans. Last September, they bonded in Cape Cod, Mass. The season before that, it was Lake Placid, N.Y. Both times, they've limped out of the gate.
"It's bothersome," Hextall said. "It's not only the hole that you put yourself into, it's the energy that you get among the team, in the locker room, the good feeling that you have going forward right from the start. It's tough to get out of holes the way the league is now."
Missing the playoffs for the second time in 3 years will hit the Flyers' wallet. They've failed to sell out six of their last nine home games, which follows a streak of 175 consecutive full houses dating to Nov. 18, 2010 . . . The Flyers have not won in St. Louis since Dec. 17, 2005 (0-1-2). Ray Emery recorded a shutout last season here through 65 minutes, but fell in the shootout. Craig Berube said Emery, who hasn't started since Feb. 19 due to a lower-body injury, will likely play soon . . . Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is still "week-to-week" with an abdominal injury. He had surgery in Philadelphia on Feb. 5.