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Daniel Briere was a big part of the Philadelphia Flyers' first-half success this season. His huge contract and a scoring slump has also made him an easy target during the team's current woes.
Briere and the sputtering Flyers hope to avoid matching a franchise-record 10-game losing streak as they host the Florida Panthers on Saturday night.
Before losing nine straight (0-8-1), the Flyers were first in the Atlantic Division and challenging Ottawa for the Eastern Conference lead. The skid has dropped Philadelphia (30-25-6) down to 10th in the East, two points behind Boston, Buffalo and the New York Rangers, who occupy the final three playoff spots.
The Flyers endured the longest losing streak in franchise history last season, going 0-9-1 from Dec. 2-27, 2006. This season's team didn't figure to have any chance at matching that slide, particularly after a 14-3-1 run made the top seed in the conference a distinct possibility.
"It's pretty much rock bottom now," Flyers captain Jason Smith said. "We better turn things around quickly now or we're not going to be in a good spot."
Although Briere is second on the team with 54 points, he has one goal in 14 games and no even-strength goals since Jan. 16. Briere, whose plus-minus total of minus-24 is second-worst in the NHL, signed an eight-year, $52 million contract on July 1.
During Thursday's 3-1 loss to San Jose, a big screen ad for a Briere promotion brought some of the loudest boos of the night from the Wachovia Center crowd.
"Danny cares. Danny really cares," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "He's been the victim of some bad bounces of late, but I do know he cares."
Philadelphia played the Sharks to a 1-1 tie through two periods Thursday, but allowed two goals 42 seconds apart early in the third and its struggling offense was shut down the rest of the way.
The Flyers have scored three goals or fewer in 13 consecutive games, and are 2-for-33 on the power play in their past eight contests.
"We didn't seem to show the same emotion as we should when we get behind in games," leading scorer Mike Richards said.
There has been added pressure on Briere and Richards to produce due to injuries to forwards Simon Gagne (concussion), a two-time 40-goal scorer, and Joffrey Lupul (high ankle sprain), who has 18 goals and 39 points in 44 games.
Gagne is out for the season and Lupul will be sidelined at least another two weeks.
Florida (27-29-7) is also struggling as it tries to reach the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons, sitting 13th in the East, seven points behind the final postseason berth.
The Panthers squandered a two-goal lead in the third period for a third straight game before falling 5-4 to Boston in a shootout Thursday.
Florida, 1-3-2 in its last six games overall, has dropped three in a row on the road.
"It can't be a coincidence when it happens three games in a row," Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "You've just got to get it in your head that you can't sit back and wait for bad things to happen."
Captain Olli Jokinen has been quiet lately with only one assist in his last five games.
"We need more from people like Olli," coach Jacques Martin said. "You look at the last three games how minus he is. We need more away from the puck. That's plain and simple."
The Flyers have won two of three meetings this season with the Panthers, including a 5-3 home victory on Jan. 16.