So you think the Flyers had an awful start to this season?
I call your thoughts on the Flyers bad start and raise you tonight’s Wells Fargo Center visitor, the terrible Buffalo Sabres.
The Sabres are essentially the NHL’s version of a tire fire that’s been burning out of control for the season’s first two months.
They enter tonight’s contest with a league-worst 5-17-1 record and a league-low 11 points. If that’s not bad enough, things have gone so far downhill in Western New York that Sabres’ owner and Penn State hockey arena namesake Terry Pegula canned not only head coach Ron Rolston but also general manager Darcy Regier for the cherry on top last week.
Former Sabres and Islanders head coach Ted Nolan – who, before last week, last coached the Sabres in a 1997 Eastern Conference Semifinal loss to the Flyers – was tabbed to replace Rolston while former Sabres great and Hockey Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine was named president of hockey operations.
They’ve also had a guy –Patrick Kaleta – suspended 10 games for repeated head shots, their goon – John Scott – suspended seven games for a head shot of his own and saw their best player – sniper Tomas Vanek – traded to the Islanders last month.
Poor Buffalo. It’s basically like North American sports purgatory.
On the other hand, the Flyers have turned it around since all kinds of turmoil swirled around them to start the year.
After Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Senators, the Flyers are now 8-7-2 under Craig Berube since he replaced Peter Lavilotte behind bench after the third game of the season. More recently, the Flyers are 4-0-1 in their last five games and have earned nine of a possible 10 points in those games to find themselves back in the thick of the Metropolitan Division race.
There are no nights off in the NHL, but tonight’s game against the Sabres, who come in with a 3-8 road record, is as close to a “gimmie” as there is going to be in the league.
The Sabres are easily the lowest-scoring team in the league with 1.70 goals scored per game. The Flyers used to hold that dubious distinction but are now averaging an even 2.00 goals per game with 18 tallies during this five-game mini hot streak.
Goal scoring is at such a premium for the Sabres that every single player currently on their roster that has played more than one game has a minus rating. Eh, not so good.
The key for the Flyers tonight should be getting off to an early start. So far this season, the Sabres have been outscored an astonishing 31-4 in the first period. That’s a beyond dreadful minus-27 goal differential in the opening period. Don’t be surprised then to see the Flyers get up by a few early and force the Sabres to try and climb back in the game. As you may be able to surmise, they aren’t so good at climbing back into the game.
The Sabres still have goalie Ryan Miller, though. And while he hasn’t been as good as he has in the past, that’s in part to a crummy defense in front of him. He’s faced 599 shots – second-most in the league – in 16 games played. Keep in mind, he’s playing not only for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team come February but also maybe for a trade out of the hot mess that is Buffalo right now. The Flyers can’t sleep on him.
“Razor” Ray Emery gets the nod in net tonight for the Flyers. It’s a great chance to get Emery some tick after the way he played against the Penguins last Wednesday and give Steve Mason some rest with four games in six days coming up after tonight. Emery is 11-6-1 in his career against the Sabres.
Long story short, there are two important points just sitting on the table tonight for the Flyers against this awful Sabres team. As long as the Flyers show up tonight, they should be able to keep the momentum rolling.