No joy in Flyersville

     Are the Flyers collapsing right before our eyes?
     Two straight losses to sad-sack Atlanta, including Sunday’s 3-1 setback at the Wachovia Center, have raised that question.
     Entering a home-and-home weekend series with the Thrashers, the Flyers had the NHL’s second-best record over the last 10 weeks.
     But all that consistent play means nothing if they don’t get their act together down the stretch.
     In Sunday’s loss, Atlanta goalie Ondrej Pavelec (44 saves) outplayed a shaky Brian Boucher (28 saves), moving ninth-place Atlanta to within four points of the Flyers in the Eastern Conference.
    The Flyers have 79 points, the same number as Montreal and Ottawa. All three teams are tied for fifth (excluding tie-breakers) and have 10 games left.
    The Flyers play at struggling Ottawa Tuesday, host Minnesota on Thursday, and then travel to Pittsburgh on Saturday.
    Ottawa, which has lost five straight, plays at Montreal on Monday. That means the Flyers will drop to sixth or seventh before their next game.
    Suddenly, the playoffs aren’t a lock.
    The Flyers, who somehow lost all four games to Atlanta this season, fell into a 2-0 first-period hole Sunday and never recovered. In their last four games, they have been outscored in the first period by a combined 9-3.
    “Obviously it’s easier to play with a lead than coming back; we’re not making enough offense in the first period to get the opportunities and get goals and then play with the lead,” said Mike Richards, who scored his second goal in the last nine games. “Some of that obviously has to be corrected, and in a hurry.”
     If not, there will be major changes made in the off-season.

    Phantoms goalie Johan Backlund, who is recovering from a groin injury, appears about ready to join the Flyers.
    Just a hunch: Backlund gets a start Thursday against Minnesota.