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.

Matt Read on Flyers' changes: 'We're running out of time here'

Matt Read on Flyers' changes: 'We're running out of time here'

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- As far as he can remember, in his six years with the Flyers, Matt Read hasn't played on a line with both Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

Read has spent time with each of the Flyers' top-two scorers at various times but never together. The Flyers hope the cohesiveness comes together quickly after making changes to three of the lines on Wednesday in an attempt keep their sagging playoff hopes.

"We're running out of time here, so hopefully a couple line changes here gives us a little spark offensively," Read said. "We've still got to play better defensively, but you know it's kind of do-or-die right now. So hopefully chemistry clicks right away and things can start going off the bat."

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol had hinted at adjusting the lines recently but stuck with the current structure in Tuesday night's 3-2 loss at Winnipeg (see game story). With the ability to practice Wednesday in Minnesota before Thursday's game against the Wild, Hakstol followed through with the adjustment.

Hakstol met with the four centers before practice and then had Giroux with Voracek and Read. Valtteri Filppula centered Jordan Weal and Wayne Simmonds. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was teamed with Travis Konecny and Chris VandeVelde.

Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Dale Weise stayed together.

"That line, it's been a good line for us," Hakstol said of Schenn, Couturier and Weise. "Off their game a little bit yesterday, but they've been a good line and I'm confident they'll come back and do a good job tomorrow. The other changes are just looking at different things coming off a road performance yesterday… just looking at a way to inject a little bit more into our lineup for a real tough road game here tomorrow night."

The Flyers didn't lose any ground with Tuesday's loss with Boston, Tampa Bay and Carolina also losing. But the Flyers now have just 10 games remaining as they trail Toronto by seven points for the final wild-card spot.

"We didn't take advantage of the opportunity we had for two points," Hakstol said. "At the end of the day, you can't sit back and watch what's happening elsewhere. You've got to take care of your own backyard, and that's what our focus is. We didn't get it done yesterday. Point blank, we didn't get it done. So, we've got an opportunity tomorrow night for two points and that's what our job is."

Reuniting Giroux and Voracek, along with Read, is one way he hopes to solve the issue. Voracek said he knows the onus is on his line to lead the way.

"We know what to expect from each other," Voracek said. "When we move our feet, we are dangerous. So that's what we've got to do. We've got to have fun. We've got to find a way to score the goals and help the team to win the games, because we're going to play a lot of minutes."

Another possible change for Hakstol could come along the defense. Brandon Manning practiced on Wednesday and Hakstol said it's possible he could rejoin the lineup against the Wild.

Manning hasn't played since March 11 because of a right shoulder injury. Hakstol said he's confident Manning is ready and a decision will be made Thursday morning on which of the seven defensemen will play in the game.

"He's practiced well," Hakstol said. "He got extra work in yesterday. He practiced well today. We'll have a decision to make tomorrow."

Flyers-Jets 10 observations: Lackluster effort, wasted opportunity

Flyers-Jets 10 observations: Lackluster effort, wasted opportunity

Our recap of Tuesday's underwhelming performance by the Flyers in Winnipeg.

Their Tragic Number is now 13, meaning the number of points either lost by the Flyers or accrued by the second wild card -- Toronto -- that totals 13 will eliminate the Flyers from the playoffs.

Sean Couturier said it best prior to the road trip: Unless the Flyers won in Winnipeg, then anything positive they achieved in coming from behind to beat Carolina was wasted.

And it was.  

If you watched the telecast with John Boruk, Alfonso Morganti and myself, you already know how I feel about the loss.

But for those of you who are gluttons for further punishment, here's 10 Things I think, I think, as Bill Lyon used to say:

1. A couple players gave everything they had to make a difference in this game. Radko Gudas had eight of the Flyers' 17 hits. Michael Del Zotto had five strong shots from the point, two of which were almost goals. Shayne Gostisbehere had four shots, two of which almost gave them a goal.

2. The Jets had five injured defensemen out of their lineup, which meant the Flyers' forwards should have been attacking them at the net. Again, the only offense generated for 50 minutes was from the point and not down low, where the Jets were vulnerable.

3. Valterri Filppula matched up against Patrick Laine and held him -- with help from Steve Mason -- to no points, a task in itself. Laine generated five shots and two prime scoring chances that Mason took care of.

4. Jets rookie defenseman Julian Melchiori had played just eight NHL games and had a total of four shots. He had three in the first period alone Tuesday and tied Laine with a team-high five for the game. He was more determined to make something happen than most of the Flyers. That should embarrass coach Dave Hakstol, who insisted the Flyers come out strong. They didn't.

5. Winnipeg moved up and down the ice well in transition. They came into the zone with speed and spread their attack out. Blake Wheeler's goal that made it 2-1 in the third period was the result of the Jets' precise puck movement from Mathieu Perreault to Mark Scheifele to Wheeler that demonstrated nothing moves faster on the ice than the speed of the puck. Wheeler got the puck with a wide-open look inside the right circle. The Flyers didn't have a single play during the game that mimicked that rush.

6. Although the Flyers' penalty kill units gave up a 10th goal in their last 24 chances, they shut down the Jets' the final four power plays of the game, including the four-minute double-minor to Ivan Provorov in the second period. The PK got no help from the power play (0 for 3).

7. Mason had four saves during the Jets' four-minute power play, which should have given the Flyers some momentum for the remainder of the second period and into the third. He also had a terrific stick save on Laine in the slot after the PP that left the rookie so angry he was jamming his stick violently into the ground on the Jets' bench.

8. Following up on that, why were the Flyers hesitant in the third period, tied 1-1, while the Jets peppered Mason at the outset? Where's that sense of desperation Hakstol's team should have shown? This is precisely what happened in Boston a few weeks ago. Game tied going into the third and instead of playing for two points they absolutely had to have, the Flyers were playing to get the game into overtime and earn at least one. That strategy failed spectacularly in Boston when the Bruins won the game in the final 5.6 seconds of regulation and failed again Tuesday.

9. Hakstol talked about effort and determination, yet the numbers say otherwise. With 13:34 left in regulation, the Flyers had just two shots in the period. Two! In the final seven minutes of the game, their sense of urgency finally kicked in when they kept the puck in Winnipeg's zone to the end and even scored shorthanded. That again raises this question: Where was that urgency at the period's start when it was 1-1 and not 3-1?

10. Finally, the Flyers had three power plays in this defeat. During their second power play, trailing 2-1, Winnipeg's lowly PK unit generated two shorthanded chances and cleared the zone four times. On the Flyers' final power play -- they trailed 3-1 at that point -- Hakstol pulled Mason to create a 6-on-4. The Flyers generated several scoring chances. They have scored three times this season under that scenario. Young goalie Michael Hutchinson, who had a 4.06 goals against average head-to-head against the Flyers, had a couple of terrific saves, including one on Wayne Simmonds in the slot. Where was that pressure on Hutchinson earlier in the period? Or earlier in the game?