The Flyers' much-maligned defense has played better lately, but their offense has not responded, causing the team to fall out of the playoff race.

"We're not finishing, not executing - especially me," said second-line center Sean Couturier after Wednesday's practice in Voorhees. "I've been having a lot of quality scoring chances lately and haven't been finishing. . . . I think all year, we've been through stretches where we're not executing, we're not finishing. It's not always about competing."

The Flyers, who play in St. Louis on Thursday, have won just 14 of 37 one-goal games, going 14-10-13.

All of those one-goal or shootout/overtime losses help explain why they are nine points out of a playoff spot.

A year ago, the Flyers had seven players who scored at least 20 goals: Wayne Simmonds (29), Claude Giroux (28), Jake Voracek (23), Matt Read (22), Brayden Schenn (20), Vinny Lecavalier (20), and Scott Hartnell (20).

This season, they have only two - Simmonds (26) and Voracek (20) - with 14 games left. Giroux (18) also figures to crack the 20-goal plateau, though he has just two goals in his last 20 games.

In addition to Giroux, Read (6), Lecavalier (7) and Schenn (12) have had major drop-offs, and Hartnell was traded for R.J. Umberger, who has just nine goals.

"A lot of the guys that aren't up to standards, where they should be, it's about getting to the net more and getting to the dirty goals around the net," coach Craig Berube said.

As a team, the Flyers are 21st in the NHL, averaging 2.57 goals per game. Last season, they finished eighth in the league, averaging 2.84 goals per game.

"I think some of the production from guys is down, and that's something that we have to find a way to crack," general manager Ron Hextall said. "Fitness level has got to be better. A fit on certain lines has got to be better. We'll look at everything once the season is over. . . . It's easy just to say all we have to do is score more goals, but again, it's really about the [goal] differential.

"You have to look at every aspect," Hextall added. ". . . Maybe we're not scoring goals because we're not getting the puck in certain areas. Not going to certain areas, defense isn't moving the puck well enough, forwards aren't receiving the puck - there's a lot of things that can go wrong and like I said, it's only a few goals here or there that make a huge difference, so I always say that the easiest thing to do is to improve from within."

Excluding empty-net goals, the Flyers have scored two goals or fewer in 14 of their last 18 games.

Asked if he would pursue a top-six forward in the offseason, Hextall said, "There's no magic wand where you say, 'OK, here's a 25-year-old Brett Hull, thank you very much.' It's not that easy. Sometimes it's a collective effort, trying to identify things that certain players need to do better so they can score more goals. I do believe we've left some goals on the table this year.

"Sometimes, I don't think we're hungry enough around the net," he said. "A few games ago, there was a puck right in the crease - I won't say who it was - but one of our guys is just standing there. If they're hungry to score, that puck's in the net. That's what makes a difference."

Leadership questions

Hextall conceded there are some leadership questions surrounding his team, but didn't point the finger at Giroux, the team's captain.

"I think given the inconsistencies, it's something we have to evaluate and see where we think it's at," he said when asked if there were leadership issues.

Was he referring to Giroux?

"No. Leadership doesn't come down to one guy anymore," Hextall said. "Those days are gone. Now it's a group. Typically your older players, sometimes middle-aged guys, can add to it. It's five, six, seven guys typically that you depend on for the bulk of your leadership."

In the last year, the Flyers have traded two of their leaders, Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen.

@BroadStBull