Sean Couturier scored his first goal of the season in Tuesday's win over Ottawa. He and the Flyers host the Sabres tonight. (USA Today Images)
The Buffalo Sabres are dead last in the NHL in wins, points and goals per game. But that doesn’t mean they’re a team the Flyers can risk overlooking.
“We’re not in a playoff spot, are we?” coach Craig Berube said. “We can’t overlook anybody. I’ve said that before. You don’t overlook any team in the NHL anymore. Every game’s tough. Every single game.”
The Sabres, at 5-17-1, have more losses than every other team in the league. Even when the Flyers were struggling to score more than a goal per game, the Sabres were neck and neck with them – but while the Flyers have taken a step forward from their early-season struggles, the Sabres have not.
Still, despite their five-game point streak and winning four of their last five, the Flyers are still in last place in the Metropolitan Division. They are three points out of a playoff spot.
“We’ve come a long way from where we were at the beginning of the year,” Braydon Coburn said. “But we have a long way to go.”
The Sabres are a perfect opportunity for the Flyers to register their fifth home win of the season, and second win in a row. But in order for it to happen, a fast start is key. The Sabres are deceptively tough later in games; they’ve been outscored 31-4 in first periods, but only 19-16 in third periods.
Getting goals early should go a long way tonight.
“I talk it about it all the time, the start of games are huge,” Berube said. “Set the tone, forechecking, get your skating going, get on the forecheck, be physical. Doing things properly early in games. Getting the crowd into it. It’s all important. Same as the end of the games -– start and finish are really important.”
Ray Emery will get the start tonight for the Flyers, his first since last week’s 2-1 win in Pittsburgh over the Penguins. He’s 11-6-1 lifetime against the Sabres.
The Flyers have just as much confidence in him as they do in Steve Mason.
“I don’t think it really matters who’s playing in net for us,” Wayne Simmonds said. “If we make the mistake, our goalies are going to be there to back us up, and I think that’s huge for our confidence. It allows us a little more breathing room offensively, and that’s key.”
Emery has a 2-3 record with a .898 save percentage, 2.82 goals-against average and one shutout.
Said the Flyers’ coach, simply: “We got two good goalies.”
In net for the Sabres will be Ryan Miller, who has a .917 save percentage and 3.18 goals-against average in 16 games.
An NHL first
Tonight’s game marks the first time two First Nation coaches will face each other in an NHL game. (First Nation is the term given to Canada’s version of Native Americans.)
Craig Berube, part Cree, hails from Alberta. Ted Nolan, the Sabres’ coach, is Ojobwe and from Ontario.
“It’s great,” Berube said. “… I’m glad to be part of it.”
This might be the first time the two men have coached against each other, but it’s not the first time they’ve faced off.
“Teddy and I played against each other in the minors a little bit,” Berube said. “That’s when I first played against him. I’m very happy for Ted to be back in the NHL. He’s a good coach. He’ll do a good job there.”
After struggling terribly to score, the Flyers have 18 goals in their last five games.
Where did the sudden offensive prowess come from?
“Pucks at the net,” Berube said. “Shooting pucks, getting people at the net, power play. When your power play is clicking, it seems like 5-on-5 goals go in. Skilled players we got on the power play, they’re feeling good about themselves, make plays, it goes along with the 5-on-5 play."