Flyers-Sabres: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Sabres: 5 things you need to know

Flyers at Sabres
7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet

Someone has to score, right? The Flyers (17-21-7) and Buffalo Sabres (14-28-3), both coming off embarrassing shutout losses, will square off at First Niagara Center on Saturday evening.

Here are five things you need to know before puck drop:

1. Where’s the offense?
The Flyers have scored seven goals so far this week. Spread that over a span of three nights and it probably should have been good enough to steal at least two out of their three games. Maybe even put them in a position to climb back into the wild-card hunt. Too bad that wasn’t the case.

The Flyers collected all seven of those tallies in Monday’s thrashing of the Tampa Bay Lightning before being shut out on back-to-back nights by the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks. Their offense, or lack thereof, couldn’t be much more anemic at this point.

In fact, the Flyers have gone seven consecutive periods without a marker. If you’re counting at home, which I hope you’re not, it’s been 144 minutes and 59 seconds since they last lit the lamp. To their credit, they were competitive in Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to the Caps. The same, however, cannot be said for their spiritless performance against Vancouver.

“We’re gripping the sticks too hard and it kinda paralyzed us out there,” alternate captain Mark Streit said after Thursday’s 4-0 beatdown at the Wells Fargo Center (see story). “I know these moments are tough but you can’t just stop playing. You got to stick with the program. Play the system. Eventually, you will get a bounce.”

If the Flyers fail to end their goalless drought against Buffalo, it might be time to get your pitchforks and torches ready. They’ll be facing a Sabres team that’s been outscored 39-9 during a current nine-game slide.

2. Bad in Buffalo
If you think it’s a tough time to be a Flyers fan, try trading in your orange and black for navy blue and gold.

The Sabres are bad. Like scary bad. They haven’t won a game since Dec. 27. They’ve collected the most losses in regulation this season (28). They’ve allowed the most goals in the league (156) while scoring the least (76). They rank dead last in power-play effectiveness (8.8 percent). They boast the league’s worst goal differential (minus-75). They have just one skater with more than 10 goals (Zemgus Girgensons). Heck, they don’t even have a single player with a plus rating.

Despite its futility, Buffalo still has two points on the NHL-worst Edmonton Oilers. One of those two clubs, or maybe even the Carolina Hurricanes, will likely land the No. 1 pick at this summer’s NHL draft. Connor McDavid anyone? Jack Eichel wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize, either.

3. Between the pipes
Earlier this season, the Flyers were playing very well in front of backup Ray Emery. The veteran goalie went 4-0-1 in his first five appearances, but his play has dropped off significantly in his last 12 games. Over that span, he’s gone 3-8-0 with a 3.75 goals-against average and .864 save percentage.

That explains why it’s been an easy decision for head coach Craig Berube to turn to recent call-up Rob Zepp with Steve Mason sidelined for the near future. Zepp picked up the win over Tampa and was solid in the team’s loss in Washington, D.C.

Then Emery got the call against the Canucks. He didn’t last long, either. He surrendered three goals on 12 shots before being replaced by Zepp early in the second period.

“Well, obviously his stats aren’t as good. That's for sure,” Berube said (see story). “It’s a combination of things with Ray and the team. We gotta play better in front of him. He’s gotta play better.”

Emery’s biggest problem has been his lateral movement. He’s been slow when moving from post-to-post and hasn’t been able to come up with a big save when the Flyers need one. Don’t be surprised if Berube goes back to Zepp for Saturday’s tilt.

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Claude Giroux or Jakub Voracek. They’re both All-Stars. And pretty much the only reason to watch the team the rest of the season.

Sabres: Tyler Ennis is one of those players who always seems to give the Flyers a problem. He’s earned at least one point in each of his last three games against the orange and black and enters Saturday leading Buffalo in scoring with 24 points. The 25-year-old is a sneaky player in the offensive zone and skates exceptionally well. He can also be quite feisty despite his 5-foot-9, 169-pound frame. He wears uniform No. 63.

5. This and that
• The Flyers are 10-3-1 against the Sabres since the beginning of the 2010-11 season.

• All nine of Buffalo’s losses during its current skid have come in regulation.

• The Flyers have been outscored by a 20-9 margin in their last six road games (0-5-1).

• Cody Hodgson had two goals and two assists in three games against the Flyers last season.

• Mark Streit has 18 points since Dec. 1, the third most among all NHL defensemen over that span.

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Flyers’ “Ghost” headed home Monday on a high note — for a change.

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere recorded three assists for the first three-point night of his NHL career Sunday as the Flyers edged the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in the final game of a three-game Western Canada road trip (see story). In one night, he matched his offensive output of his previous 10 games played. 

He was a healthy scratch for three games in the meantime. On many other occasions, he has struggled while dealing with the NHL’s proverbial sophomore jinx following a standout rookie season. 

“It’s been a while coming,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s good to get some points, but I thought it was more important to get two points for our team.”

The win moved the Flyers (28-24-7) within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently held by Toronto, in the Eastern Conference. With considerable thanks to Gostisbehere, the club’s much maligned power play scored on two of three man-advantage opportunities. 

“He played great,” Wayne Simmonds said of Gostisbehere. “He had his confidence and a little bit of swagger.”

Gostisbehere’s first assist enabled the Flyers to get off to a quick start offensively as Simmonds deflected in his point shot only 1:11 into the game. On the Flyers’ second goal, Gostisbehere head-manned the puck to Sean Couturier on a rush. Jakub Voracek easily put Couturier’s big rebound into a gaping net with Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller caught out of position.

One minute and 27 seconds later, Brayden Schenn took Gostisbehere’s pass and put in a shot from the slot. Altogether, Gostisbehere’s assists enabled the Flyers to build an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the game’s first 23 minutes.

“Ghost has had his ups and downs this year, but he's a heck of a player and has unbeliveable skill,” Simmonds said. “He can be a catalyst offensively for us, that’s for sure.”

Gostisbehere now has four goals and 18 assists on the season. Until Sunday, the 23-year-old had seemed like an apparition of his former self. 

He had a less-than-ideal recovery period from offseason hip (labrum) and abdominal surgeries, due to his participation with Team North America in the World Cup. Then he suffered a facial cut in the Flyers’ season opener and took a bruise on his right hand in December.

He also struggled defensively to the point where he was scratched — for the first time in his NHL career — in November and was later benched and pulled out of the lineup again. Heading into Sunday’s game, he had a woeful minus-22 mark, but he was only on the ice for one Canucks' goal.

He helped the Flyers shut out the Canucks in the first and third periods. 

“We don’t like how they came back, but we held the lead and, like I said, we got the two points,” Gostisbehere said.

Ghost’s offensive showing evoked memories of his seemingly other-worldly 2015-16 season. In 64 games last season, he notched 17 goals, the most by an NHL rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf, then with Calgary, who scored 20 over a full 82-game schedule in 2005-06. Gostisbehere also enjoyed a historic 15-game point streak in 2015-16, the longest ever for a first-year rearguard, and he was a runnerup for the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

His return to form Sunday bodes well as the Flyers face two Metropolitan Division rivals this week, first Washington at home on Wednesday and then the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday in an outdoor game that will pack plenty of hype and pressure. 

After those games, the Flyers face a more compressed schedule than they have lately. The Feb.12-27 portion of their calendar contains only five games. But starting Feb. 28, they will play their final 21 games of the regular season over 41 days as they push to make the playoffs.

“We definitely know we’re a playoff team, for sure,” Gostisbehere said. “It shows. It’s a big test for us (this) week, playing these really good teams.”

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Dave Hakstol’s Flyers returned home from Vancouver on Monday not quite resembling conquering heroes.

Sure, they salvaged two points from their three-game trek to Western Canada, but for a team that supposedly sees itself as a wild card, that just ain’t gonna get it done.

The Flyers required at least four points — ideally, five — from the trip to give us some proof they’re a legit contender for the wild card.

Right now, their wild-card hopes remain on life support.

Yes, they’re only two points behind Toronto. Thing is, the field of wild-card contenders have officially caught up and even passed them.

When the Flyers left for the trip, they were even in points with the Maple Leafs while holding down the 9-seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto had the second wild card.

Hakstol's team is the 11-seed now. Toronto, Florida and the New York Islanders are ahead of them with games in hand.

This trip should offer enough evidence to general manager Ron Hextall that his team is still floundering.

There are no moves Hextall can initiate at the trade deadline that will guarantee a playoff spot without mortgaging the future.

Since their return from the All-Star break, the Flyers are 3-5-1. Those numbers don’t suggest they’re headed to the playoffs.

And even if the Flyers were to qualify as the second wild card, they would face a very early exit against the Washington Capitals.

Again.

At this point, with the March 1 NHL trade deadline staring Hextall in the face, he has to be a seller at the deadline.

If you trust Hextall’s long-term plan of patience, you understand that what this is about is preserving assets and preparing young players to be integrated into the system next year and the year after, and the year after that.

Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto are two unrestricted free agents who could help someone else right now.

Streit has been strong this season on the power play, which is his forte. He’s the perfect deadline rental.

Even if Hextall would like to have Streit’s veteran leadership on the blue line next season on a one-year, low salary to “tutor” Robert Hagg or Sam Morin or Travis Sanheim, he could still move Streit now and re-sign him later this summer.

Del Zotto, at 26, will get a nice return in draft picks or a prospect. Del Zotto is going to want a big contract this summer (he’s making $3.87 million now).

There’s no incentive for Hextall to go that direction given the sheer number of young, outstanding defensive prospects in the system that will be arriving shortly, all of whom come with very low salary cap hits.

Don’t blame Hextall for not getting involved in the Matt Duchene/Gabriel Landeskog saga that is going on in Colorado. GM Joe Sakic is asking a lot.

Hextall seems reluctant to part with any future prospects or young players just to get the same in return.

Much of the fan base has been saying for a while now it’s time to move team captain Claude Giroux. He's in the midst of his fourth consecutive season in which his numbers have declined, and in some respects, dramatically from his two best seasons — 2011-12 (93 points) and 2013-14 (86 points).

Yet there is no indication from Hextall or anyone in the Flyers' organization that such is even being contemplated.

Or that the organization feels Giroux’s leadership abilities have been assumed by Wayne Simmonds, who is arguably the most popular Flyer, two years running now.

Hextall still sees veterans such as Giroux, who is only 29, as a player who would help the transition of younger pups coming along — Travis Konecny, German Rubtsov, Nick Cousins, Jordan Weal, etc. — and he also believes Giroux can recapture his offense.

In short, Hextall is not going to tear his roster apart nor is he going to make a blockbuster trade next Wednesday. But he will likely try to sell veteran assets that make the team younger in some way.

Which is the correct thinking for the Flyers now and right into this summer, as well.