VANCOUVER - As the Flyers prepare for the Western Canada portion of a five-game road trip that started badly Friday, you should be warned: Be patient, because until some cap room is cleared after the season, this looks as if it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Viewer discretion is advised.

With little cap room to make offseason improvements, the Flyers look very similar to the team that missed the playoffs and never developed an identity last year.

So it should not be a surprise that the Flyers are 4-4-2 and looking lost after three straight defeats.

The power play - one of the team's strengths last season - is 0 for 10 in the last four games and is over-executing, looking for the perfect shot.

The penalty kill, severely weakened because of injuries to centers Sean Couturier and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, has allowed goals in the last five games.

The offense, which looked crisp and quick in early-season games against league heavyweights, has been a step slow and out of sync against the so-called weaker teams.

The attack was also weak last year, but it had its productive games because the top line and power play excelled. But because those two units have struggled in this season's first 10 games, the offense has been offensive.

All you need to know about the offense is this: Defenseman Mark Streit leads the team in scoring with seven points.

And this: Defenseman Luke Schenn has more goals (one) than top-liners Jake Voracek and Michael Raffl. Schenn, despite being a healthy scratch in three games, also has more points (four) than Matt Read (three), the injured Couturier (three), Voracek (three), and Raffl (one).

The Flyers are averaging two goals per game. Entering Saturday, only Anaheim was scoring at a lower clip in the 30-team NHL.

Voracek and Raffl, who were off the top line at the start of Friday's uninspiring 3-1 loss in Buffalo, have zero goals after combining for 43 last season.

They aren't the only ones scuffling. Wayne Simmonds, a 28-goal scorer last year, has one goal. The power play, which finished third in the NHL last season (23.4 percent success rate) is now 23d (12.5 percent).

When you look at the offensive plunge, it's rather amazing that the Flyers had more scoring chances - and showed as much speed - in early-season matchups against Tampa Bay, Chicago, and the Rangers. Somehow, they collected five of a possible six points against those Stanley Cup contenders.

That was followed by consecutive losses to squads not regarded as playoff teams: Buffalo, New Jersey, and Buffalo again.

It's the same pattern as last year: The Flyers raise their game against the top teams, then play down to their opponents' level when facing the so-called lightweights.

"The effort is there, but a few things are creeping into our game. Mistakes," Streit said. "I feel like we have a whole lot of unnecessary turnovers. Instead of us getting in on the forecheck, the other team gets in on the forecheck. I think discipline is an issue, too. We just take too many penalties, and it costs a lot of momentum and a lot of energy for the guys killing. You can't win hockey games like that."

In the meantime, the constant line changes, the players meetings, the periods the team takes off will just seem like a bad rerun, except with a new coach. The Groundhog Day scenario came about because general manager Ron Hextall won't be freed from cap jail for a while, paying for the moves made by his predecessor, Paul Holmgren.

There is no magic wand to fix the problems, some created when Holmgren signed Vinny Lecavalier and Andrew MacDonald to hefty long-term deals and dealt speedy, productive left winger James van Riemsdyk to Toronto for Schenn.

Next year, Schenn - who is a worthwhile third-pairing player and still could draw trade interest - and his $3.6 million cap hit will come off the books, and Hextall might decide to buy out R.J. Umberger ($4.6 million) and Lecavalier ($4.5 million). Hextall also may not re-sign Sam Gagner ($3.2 million), a forward who has shown promise, and defenseman Evgeny Medvedev ($3 million), who had a strong preseason but has struggled in the first 10 games.

Perhaps next year, exciting young prospects such as Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, and Travis Konecny, among others, will be wearing orange and black, and Hextall may finally have enough cap room to sign a desperately needed sniper.

Until then, the makeover is on hold.

Until then, everyone needs to show lots of patience. This is going to take a while.

scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

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