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.

AHL allowing players on minor-league deals to go to Olympics

AHL allowing players on minor-league deals to go to Olympics

Players on American Hockey League contracts will be eligible to play in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

President and CEO David Andrews confirmed through a league spokesman Wednesday that teams were informed they could loan players on AHL contracts to national teams for the purposes of participating in the Pyeongchang Olympics.

The AHL sent a memo to its 30 clubs saying players could only be loaned for Olympic participation from Feb. 5-26.

The Olympic men's hockey tournament runs from Feb. 9-25. Like the NHL, which is not having its players participate for the first time since 1994, the AHL does not have an Olympic break in its schedule.

The AHL's decision does not affect players assigned to that league on NHL one- or two-way contracts. No final decision has been made about those players.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly denied a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation report that the league had told its 31 teams that AHL players could be loaned to play in the Olympics. It was an AHL memo sent at the direction of that league's board of governors.

When the NHL announced in April that it wouldn't be sending players to South Korea after participating in five consecutive Olympics, Andrews said the AHL was prepared for Canada, the United States and other national federations to request players.

"I would guess we're going to lose a fair number of players," Andrews said in April. "Not just to Canada and the U.S., but we're going to lose some players to other teams, as well. But we're used to that. Every team in our league has usually got two or three guys who are on recalls to the NHL, so it's not going to really change our competitive integrity or anything else."

The U.S. and Canada are expected to rely heavily on players in European professional leagues and college and major junior hockey to fill out Olympic rosters without NHL players.

With AHL experience, Flyers prospect Nicolas Aube-Kubel out to score again

With AHL experience, Flyers prospect Nicolas Aube-Kubel out to score again

VOORHEES, N.J. — At the junior level, scoring was second nature to Nicolas Aube-Kubel, like riding a bike after you figure out the balance aspect.

Goals came in bunches and points piled up — that was his game and it came effortlessly at times, especially over his final two seasons with the QMJHL's Val-d'Or Foreurs, posting back-to-back campaigns of 38 markers and 80-plus assists.

"Usually in junior, scoring was always coming naturally to me, having points and goals," he said last week at Flyers development camp.

On the AHL ice last season, it was a whole new ballgame. For Aube-Kubel, Year 1 of pro hockey was a feeling-out process from start to finish. His prolific scoring didn't carry over much at all, as the speedy 5-foot-11 winger finished with nine goals and nine assists in 71 regular-season games for Lehigh Valley.

"Guys are better with the puck," he said of the AHL. "I've always been strong on the ice and skating-wise, too, but translating to the AHL, guys are faster, guys are quicker with the puck and less turnovers."

This was part of toeing the waters in a new surrounding. Not many prospects jump from the junior ranks to the AHL without missing a beat. Aube-Kubel, who turned 21 in May, wanted to fulfill his role and duties first before worrying about scoring. He finished the season as a plus-10, tied for fourth best on the team and tops among Phantoms with 70 or more games played.

"I've always been an offensive player," Aube-Kubel said. "From being my first year in the pros, I was trying more to focus on details and what the coach was telling me. I'm excited for next year and I'll try to step up my game, for sure, and try to do what I was doing in junior."

Following his fourth development camp, Aube-Kubel finds himself heading into an interesting second season with Lehigh Valley. A lot has changed since he was taken by the Flyers in the second round of the 2014 draft. With time, the organization has significantly built up its prospect pool and added depth at forward. 

Aube-Kubel is just fine with that.

"Since I've been drafted, there was depth," he said. "Any way I'm going to play in the NHL, I'm going to make my own spot. No one is going to give it to you. If there are more drafted players, it doesn't change anything."

He's also enjoyed working with the Phantoms' staff, led by head coach Scott Gordon. More development off the ice and a greater workload during games should help moving forward.

"I liked it. They treat you like a pro," he said. "Everyone does their own thing. If you cheat or if you're not serious about it, it's you to pay off. If you're not serious, it's going to be you that gets penalized."

If Aube-Kubel needs any comfort in the quiet start to his pro career, he can look back at his first season of junior play. He tallied just 10 goals and 27 points in 64 regular-season games. Then he jumped to 53 points (22 goals, 31 assists) in 65 games in 2013-14 before scoring at will over his third and fourth seasons with Val-d'Or.

Maybe easing his way in is just part of his hockey DNA.

If so, keep an eye on Aube-Kubel next season.

"This year, I was maybe more focusing on having a role and trying to do what the coach was asking of me," Aube-Kubel said. "Now that it's all set, I'm going to focus on offensive play. I don't want to put pressure on myself, but last year wasn't my best offensive year. It was also my first year. I think I was trying to learn a lot of it and we'll see what happens next year."