Flyers Stunned by Lausanne HC - Now What?
We've seen this movie before.
In their final game of the 2019 preseason, the Philadelphia Flyers were defeated by Swiss hockey team Lausanne HC. A team that is 3-3 in the National League just beat the Flyers 4-3, sending the Flyers to Prague in a sour mood. It's the first time in eight years a European team has beaten an NHL squad in preseason play.
For 30 minutes, this game wasn't even close. Lausanne ran the show early on. They dominated play, drew the first two penalties of the game, got to the high-danger areas, and capitalized on their chances. Carter Hart, probably the Flyers best player during the USA part of the preseason, uncharacteristically struggled. He was beaten from in close and from long range, sometimes with traffic and sometimes with a clean look. It got so out of hand that Hart, who was supposed to play the full game, had to be pulled, something that only happened three times in 31 games during his rookie season.
But the skaters in front of him certainly deserve their fair share of blame as well. The Flyers looked like a team that hardly cared for the first half of the game. Though most lines and players had a few moments of brilliance, they were largely masked by mistakes with the puck and a general lack of effort. It's easy to understand the Flyers taking Lausanne lightly, easy to understand the difficulty of playing on a larger rink in a different time zone on the other side of the world, playing in the pro sports version of the "trap" game every big college football fan knows for all the wrong reasons.
But many teams have faced these same circumstances and still prevailed. With the way the last seven years have played out in Philadelphia, motivation shouldn't be an issue with this team, especially for the veterans who have been here before. Matt Niskanen is the only player on the Flyers active roster with their name on the Stanley Cup. Forget the final score and the advanced stats, anyone who watched the Flyers play Monday could tell their effort was unacceptable. It needs to be changed, and time is of the essence.
This game is either the best or worst thing that could have happened to the Philadelphia Flyers. No doubt today's result, especially the poor effort to open the game, will be on everybody's mind when the puck drops in Prague on Friday. If Alain Vigneault and the front office truly believe the message they have been selling the fanbase on all summer, then they will push the Flyers to the limit over the next three days, longer if they have to, until performances like this are practically non-existent. The best teams operate that way, and if the Flyers are ever going to be elite on the ice, they also need to be elite off it. There's not enough talent on this team to ignore the second element.
All of the worst traits of the 2018-19 Flyers reared their ugly head once again Monday afternoon. Expecting Alain Vigneault and company to completely clean up their flaws by game one, even with the moves made by Fletcher this summer, is foolishly optimistic. But a 1-3-3 preseason record that was full of uninspiring play makes it seem like they've hardly made any progress so far. Sure, most teams that begin a season with a brand new coaching staff need some time to get used to their new system. But at what point is the team, no matter how good they look on paper, the ones to blame for the underachieving on the ice?
The saving grace from this game is that it does not hurt the Flyers chances of making the playoffs. It doesn't hurt their chances of winning the Stanley Cup. According to the NHL, it doesn't count for anything. Remember, we're talking about the franchise that once lost to their own AHL affiliate and made the Eastern Conference Final in the same season. This result isn't ideal, but it's far from a death sentence.
But that doesn't mean the lessons the Flyers learned today don't matter. The goal of preseason is for players, coaches, and teams to learn things about themselves. Philadelphia learned a harsh lesson against Lausanne, that much is indisputable. Their errors are correctable. But these aforementioned flaws must be attacked by the players and coaching staff alike as soon as possible, or else they will manifest and kill another promising season.
Just like last year.
On Friday afternoon in Prague, when the lights come on, the Blackhawks skate out for the opening face-off, and the games begin to count, these flaws will still be there. It's up to the Flyers to fight through their weaknesses, to turn them into strengths, and turn Monday's game into an aberration, rather than an ominous first sign of a bleak future that no one will accept.