Flyers continue home stand tonight against terrible Sabres

Flyers continue home stand tonight against terrible Sabres

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.

NHL Notes: Rangers' Kevin Hayes out 2-3 weeks with lower-body injury

NHL Notes: Rangers' Kevin Hayes out 2-3 weeks with lower-body injury

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers forward Kevin Hayes will miss two to three weeks with a lower-body injury.

The team announced the timeline Monday after Hayes underwent an MRI in the morning. Hayes left the Rangers' game Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings during the second period.

Hayes had seven points in his previous six games and is third on the team in points with 35. The 24-year-old has 13 goals and 22 assists in 47 games this season.

His injury is a major blow to New York, which holds the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The silver lining for the Rangers is that Hayes will miss fewer games because of the upcoming All-Star break.

Senators sign Zack Smith to 4-year, $13 million extension
OTTAWA, Ontario -- The Ottawa Senators have signed forward Zack Smith to a four-year contract extension worth $13 million.

The Senators said that the extension goes through the 2020-21 season and carries an annual average value of $3.25 million.

Smith, 28, has 11 goals and 11 assists in 43 games this season and is averaging a career-high 16 minutes, 13 seconds per game.

He set career highs with 25 goals and 36 points in 2015-16. He has 75 goals and 61 assists in 443 games, all with the Senators.

Smith was Ottawa's third-round pick (79th overall) in the 2008 draft.

Stay or Go Part 8: Ryan Mathews to Steven Means

Stay or Go Part 8: Ryan Mathews to Steven Means

In the eighth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 8 is Mathews to Means.

Ryan Mathews
Cap hit: $5M

Roob: The Eagles have to get better, younger, faster, healthier, more durable and more reliable at running back. I love the way Mathews runs when he’s healthy. The guy runs hard and he runs physical and he's aggressive. Then he always gets hurt. Mathews actually has the third-highest per-carry average among running backs in Eagles history, but they just can’t rely on him anymore. How can you count on a running back who misses significant time every year? Time to move on. Factor in the cap savings — $4 million if the Eagles release him — and it’s a no-brainer.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Eagles can save $4 million in cap room to cut the running back who needed serious neck surgery after his season was ended in the Giants' game. Mathews played pretty well in his two seasons with the Eagles, but, as has been the case during his career, health was an issue. And now he’s 29 and will turn 30 early into next season. Time to move on. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Matthews
Cap hit: $1.57M

Roob: Matthews is going into Year 4 and I’d still like to see him make a jump and become a 1,200-yard type of receiver. Maybe it will happen with another year under his belt with Carson Wentz. Matthews has the 11th-most catches in NFL history by a player in his first three seasons — 225, or 75 per year — but his 2,673 yards are 50th most. Matthews is as hard a worker and as committed a player as you’ll see. He'll get the most out of his ability. I’d just like to see him take his game up one more level, and I think he will.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It’s a shame the Eagles don’t have any legitimate threats at their outside receiver positions, because if they did, so much of the burden wouldn’t fall on Matthews. No, he’s not a great receiver, but he’s a very good one who has been solid in his first three years in the league. In his first three seasons, Matthews has 225 catches for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns. There have been just 10 receivers in the league to put up those numbers or better: Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins, Emmanuel Sanders, Doug Baldwin, Mike Evans, Randall Cobb and Brandon Marshall. Matthews isn’t going anywhere and it’s time to think about an extension. 

Verdict: STAYS

Alex McCalister
Cap hit: $557K

Roob: McCalister, a seventh-round defensive end, spent the year on injured reserve but considering the Eagles’ lack of pass-rush potency, he’ll definitely get a look this summer. McCalister had 17½ sacks at Florida, so he’s got that going for him. Still a long shot.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: This is tough because McCalister was a seventh-round draft pick who was placed on IR with a injury that didn’t appear to be serious. The last year was a redshirt season for the defensive end who has some pass-rush ability but needed to work on packing more muscle onto his frame. Haven’t seen enough to think he sticks. 

Verdict: GOES

Leodis McKelvin
Cap hit: $3.45M

Roob: The Eagles have to do better than McKelvin. He made a few plays, gave up a lot more, and as far as I’m concerned, the Eagles should hang onto Jalen Mills and get rid of all their other corners. Not to mention the $3.2 million in cap savings the Eagles would gain if McKelvin is released. See ya.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Eagles can save $3.2 million by cutting McKelvin, which will probably happen. If it doesn’t, it’ll be because the Eagles think his lingering hamstring issue played a big role in his play and because defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz goes to bat for him. Ultimately, I think McKelvin’s days in Philly are over. 

Verdict: GOES

Rodney McLeod
Cap hit: $5.6M

Roob: McLeod played really well most of the season, tailed off the last few weeks, and goes into next year a question mark because of that inconsistency. When he’s right, McLeod is a sure tackler, willing run supporter, big hitter and capable in coverage. But those last few weeks raised some eyebrows. There were times you just wondered what he was doing out there. If the Eagles can have the first-10-games McLeod for a full season, they’re fine. But he has to be consistent. He’ll be here through 2017 but after that is anybody’s guess. Another mixed year will likely spell the end here for McLeod.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: There were a few plays that showed questionable effort from McLeod this season, which was shocking based on his past. He was an undrafted rookie who worked his way into the league and into a contract with the Eagles. This ended up being a pretty good signing; he had a nice season. He’s under contract through 2020 and the Eagles hope he hasn’t yet fulfilled his potential. He and Malcolm Jenkins should only get better after more time playing together. 

Verdict: STAYS

Steven Means
Cap hit: $690K

Roob: Means, a veteran journeyman defensive end, played only 36 snaps all year. He did pick up one sack against the Vikings, but as far as his future? Most likely, he won’t be back.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Means did everything in his power last training camp to make the 2016 roster. He flashed every day and in the preseason games. But in 2016, he didn’t get to play very much and was clearly buried on the depth chart behind Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith. The Eagles need to upgrade at the defensive end spot, which might be bad news for Means if more bodies come in. But for now, he's a good depth piece. 

Verdict: STAYS