Paul Holmgren did not mince words.

After perusing the Flyers' daily newspaper clippings, Holmgren knew the questions were coming - about his plans for the offseason, his team's injuries, and, most importantly, his team's mental makeup and leadership.

Holmgren tried to set the record straight yesterday at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J., in his annual breakup meeting with reporters. The only problem was that his subject, captain Mike Richards, remained radio silent for the second day in a row.

One day after coach Peter Laviolette said his relationship with Richards still "needs developing," Holmgren fervently defended his captain.

"I don't know where this [stuff] is coming from," Holmgren said. "You guys [reporters] all know Mike. He's a quiet kid, he's a reserved kid. I think we all are in our own way, I don't want to say we have communication issues, but he's a hard guy to talk to sometimes - probably even to his closest friends.

"He's just a quiet guy. But there is no issue in terms of Mike's relationship with Peter [Laviolette] or Mike's relationship with any of his teammates. That's all a bunch of crap. I don't know why it keeps coming up, but it's ridiculous."

A year ago, as Richards was leading the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals, it would have been outrageous to think that this topic would come up again.

Still, the fire was fueled when the Flyers were swept by Boston last Friday night, when the Flyers nearly floundered to fourth place in the Eastern Conference after leading it for 54 straight days during a 170-day season, and when they needed seven games against a Buffalo team that squeaked into the playoffs.