The Flyers' slogan this year is "play boldly." Their seven-game preseason can be described this way: Groundhog Day.
The Flyers' preseason power play was excellent, but they struggled mightily at even strength. Just like last season.
Goalie Steve Mason was brilliant but suffered several hard-luck losses. Just like last season.
They coughed up late leads and lost in a shootout. Yep. Just like last season.
Yes, it was only the preseason, but the Flyers looked eerily similar to the team that went 33-31-18 and missed the playoffs last year.
From here, they are a longshot to be playing in the postseason.
The Flyers, naturally, disagree. They point to the addition of smooth-skating Evgeny Medvedev, their best defenseman in camp. They point to the expected maturation of several players who are in their early 20s, to the fact that they have one of the NHL's most productive scoring duos in Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek, to Mason's emergence as a top-tier goalie.
All of that is true, but even if the Metropolitan Division gets five of the eight Eastern Conference playoff qualifiers, they will be hard-pressed to match up with the big boys.
The Rangers are the Rangers, too fast for the Orange and Black. The hated Penguins have a young, shaky defense, but their offense is much better than the Flyers'. The Capitals may be the best team in the East. Columbus, which is much healthier than last year, looks like a Metropolitan contender. Ditto the upstart Islanders.
Giroux has read stories that say his Flyers are a playoff afterthought and shakes his head.
"It kind of pisses me off a little," the 27-year-old captain said. "It kind of gives us motivation. We think we are a playoff team."
After the Flyers demoted some of their prospects, they looked like a slow team during a 3-2-2 preseason. Some of that was because the last two preseason games were played against the Devils, who clog the neutral zone.
"I've gotta be honest," Voracek said of the Devils' trapping style, "it's an annoying game."
It's understandable why some of their speedier, hotshot prospects - guys like Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, and Travis Konecny - were sent to the AHL or their respective junior teams for more seasoning. But until they are ready, and until this franchise gets out of an ugly salary-cap situation that will loosen after this season, the Flyers won't be a major player.
That doesn't mean there won't be intrigue and entertainment. For different reasons, Voracek, Giroux, and Wayne Simmonds can be mesmerizing players to watch. And it will be interesting to watch the development of young players like Scott Laughton, Brayden Schenn, Michael Raffl, and Sean Couturier; interesting to see whether newcomer Sam Gagner - when he cracks the lineup - can have a breakthrough season; interesting to see whether new coach Dave Hakstol's attack-based system gets better results.
"We're not quite where we want to be, but we're working toward it, and we've done a lot of good things, especially with the change we had," Simmonds said after a practice Saturday in Voorhees that saw Couturier and Raffl take regular shifts after being slowed by injuries earlier in the week.
Simmonds said the Flyers will be a "more up-tempo" team than they were under Craig Berube. "There's a little more 'get up and go.' It's fast-paced hockey, and we have to adjust. I feel the league is trending toward that anyway, so it's going to be great."
Like Giroux, Simmonds feels the Flyers are a playoff team.
"We definitely have the pieces; we have to play more consistently, and it's got to start from the first minute of the game," he said. "Last year we had such a long, uphill battle from the start. If we start way better this year, it won't be so tough down the stretch."
Silver lining: Seven of the Flyers' 10 October games are against teams that failed to make the playoffs last season.
Then again, the Flyers also missed the playoffs, and they basically have the same team back.