Flyers-Sabres: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Sabres: 5 things you need to know

The Flyers' surging offense will be happy to see Ryan Miller and the reeling Buffalo Sabres come to town.

Winners of four of their last five overall, the Flyers (8-10-2) have won four straight over the Sabres (5-17-1) at the Wells Fargo Center.

The puck drops at 7 p.m. (CSN), and here are five things you need to know:

1. Meet the new offense
Through the first 15 games of the season, the Flyers' offense was anemic at best. Now, the orange and black are firing on all cylinders.

The Flyers are finally playing a more relaxed and confident game, which is leading to plenty of offense. They have recorded at least four goals three times in their last five games and are receiving significant contributions across the board.

Three Flyers ended lengthy goalless droughts in the team's 5-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday. Sean Couturier (25 games without a marker), Kimmo Timonen (21 games) and Adam Hall (64 games) each found the back of net for the first time this season.

Even better, the Flyers' leading scorers from a season ago have been consistently stuffing the scoresheets. Winger Jakub Voracek enters Tuesday with a five-game point streak (two goals, four assists) and captain Claude Giroux has registered two tallies and three helpers with a plus-5 rating in his past five contests.

With their offense clicking, the Flyers have been able to pick up nine points in their last five games. Thursday's matchup with the Sabres, who have just two regulation wins, is another opportunity for the Flyers to continue their climb in the Metropolitan Division standings.

2. A major weight lifted
The look on Couturier's face when he scored on Tuesday said it all. The third-year Flyer had been snake bitten all season until he beat Senators netminder Robin Lehner for his first tally since April 15.

“I feel 20 pounds lighter just getting that in,” Couturier admitted on Wednesday (see story). “Sometimes you think too much when things aren’t going your way. In the first period, maybe you think too much about that chance I had.”

Couturier has had plenty of opportunities to get on the board this season. He's fired 30 shots on goal and has rung quite a few off of the post.

Head coach Craig Berube hopes Couturier can learn from Giroux, who has been shooting the puck with much more confidence since netting his first goal on Nov. 9.

Couturier has already given the Flyers exceptional play in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill this season. If he can start to contribute goals reguarly, it would be a major bonus for the team.

3. Come out firing
One of the reasons the Sabres find themselves with an NHL-worst 11 points this season is their play during the first 20 minutes.

Buffalo has been completely dominated in the first period, getting outscored by a 31-4 margin.

This bodes well for the Flyers, who fired a season-high 42 shots against Ottawa in their last game.

The Sabres are still adjusting to interim coach Ted Nolan's systems. The Flyers should take advantage of that and jump on them early.

Buffalo has a young and hungry lineup. The Flyers need to come out firing -- and firing often -- in this one.

4. New-look Sabres
The Sabres' youth movement is in full swing. Buffalo recalled forward Luke Adam and defenseman Brayden McNabb from the AHL's Rochester Americans on Wednesday.

Buffalo also announced the assignment of 19-year-old Mikhail Grigorenko to Rochester on a conditioning assignment was rejected by the NHL.

All three players were present for Sabres practice Wednesday and are available to play against the Flyers.

Adam, 23, is tied for the AHL lead in goals with 13 in 15 games. McNabb, 22, has 12 points and a plus-5 rating with the Americans this season.

Grigorenko, who was selected with by Buffalo with the 12th overall pick in 2012, has gotten off to a slow start to his NHL career. The 19-year-old has just three goals and seven assists in 40 games with the Sabres and has been a healthy scratch at times this season.

5. This and that
• The Flyers dropped two of three games against the Sabres last season, but won the only meeting at Wells Fargo Center, 3-2.

• Timonen had three assists against Buffalo last season. Giroux had two goals, but was a minus-5 in the season series.

• Miller has not had much success against the Flyers. The Sabres' netminder is 13-11-2 with a .900 save percentage and 3.10 goals-against average in 28 games (26 starts) vs. the orange and black. 

• Hall, the Flyers' faceoff extraordinaire, has lost just seven draws in his last six games (41 for 48) and is at 63.3 percent on the season.

• The Flyers have outscored the Sabres 17-7 in the last four games in Philadelphia, including the 2011 playoffs.

Best of NHL: Before visiting Flyers, Devils fall to Canadiens

Best of NHL: Before visiting Flyers, Devils fall to Canadiens

NEWARK, N.J. -- The toughest thing Montreal Canadiens goalie Al Montoya had to do against the New Jersey Devils was stay awake.

The Canadiens limited the Devils to a season-low 17 shots, and Shea Weber and Max Pacioretty each scored a power-play goal during a major penalty early in the third period of Montreal's 3-1 victory Friday night.

"I'd take this any night," Montoya said after the Canadiens snapped a two-game skid. "Your team is playing fantastic in front of you. Halfway through the game it's 1-1 and all I'm really focused on is making that next save. These guys did a phenomenal job and I just wanted to make that next save, and the power play was terrific. The guys were mainly terrific all night."

Alex Galchenyuk added a goal and two assists, and Alexander Radulov had three assists as Montreal ended the Devils' three-game winning streak (see full recap).

Big 2nd period helps Penguins roll Hurricanes
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins have been beatable away from home this season. Good thing for them this felt nothing like a road game.

Phil Kessel had a goal and an assist during Pittsburgh's four-goal second period, and the Penguins routed the Carolina Hurricanes 7-1 on Friday night.

Conor Sheary scored twice, and Evgeni Malkin had a late goal and an assist. Carl Hagelin and Chris Kunitz joined Sheary in scoring during the second for Pittsburgh.

"In a win like that, I think it was a really complete effort from all the guys," said Sheary, who has four goals in three games. "It's fun to win on the road,” (see full recap).

Blackhawks beat Bruins on Hossa's late goal
BOSTON -- Blackhawks backup Scott Darling insists he isn't trying to take playing time away from No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford.

"I don't know if you guys know who my goalie partner is," Darling said with a smile after beating the Boston Bruins 1-0 on Friday night. "He's one of the best goalies in the world, hands down, no arguments. So I'm just pretty happy to get any games I can."

Marian Hossa scored with 1:26 left to break a scoreless tie, and Darling stopped 30 shots to post his second shutout of the season. Darling is 12-4 and he brought a 2.34 goals-against average into the game, even better than Crawford's 2.54 (see full recap).

Okposo gives Sabres OT win over Red Wings
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Kyle Okposo scored a power-play goal 4:34 into overtime and the Buffalo Sabres rallied to beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 on Friday night.

Ryan O'Reilly had a goal and an assist, and Sam Reinhart also scored to help the Sabres overcome a pair of one-goal deficits. Anders Nilsson made 32 saves for Buffalo, which has won two straight against Detroit in one season for the first time since 1989-90.

Darren Helm and Frans Nielsen scored for the Red Wings, and Petr Mrazek was sharp in stopping 33 shots.

The Red Wings had their three-game winning streak snapped and took a rare loss to Buffalo. They fell to 8-0-2 in their past 10 meetings with the Sabres and 31-4-3 with a tie in their past 39 (see full recap).

Flyers look to limit goals against, improve 5-on-5 play in second half

Flyers look to limit goals against, improve 5-on-5 play in second half

VOORHEES, N.J. — As bad as things have been for the Flyers — just three wins in their last 14 games — there was no massive shakeup during their mandatory five-day bye week.
 
General manager Ron Hextall didn’t make a trade, nor did he make any roster moves involving a call-up from the Phantoms.
 
Coach Dave Hakstol took one day off, then got back to watching video and live games, almost in a scout mode.
 
When the players hit the ice Friday afternoon at Skate Zone, Hakstol’s lineup was pretty much the same.
 
The only change saw Matt Read re-enter the lineup on the top line with Claude Giroux and Michael Raffl after missing two games with a skate cut.
 
The lines and defensive pairs remained the same. Goalie Michal Neuvirth will start Saturday against New Jersey at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
“For me, the biggest thing is our overall performance,” Hakstol said. “Coming out of a break, that may be a tough thing to do — to put it all together. But I think the energy will be there both mentally and physically. That’s important. The overall performance.
 
“The results are important on a different level when you start looking at the playoff picture and the race. At the end of the day, two points are going to be important, as well.”
 
The Flyers begin anew (see story) with back-to-back games against New Jersey here on Saturday and then the Islanders on Sunday in Brooklyn.
 
They will play four Eastern Conference opponents between Saturday and next Thursday before they begin the three-day All-Star break.
 
Three of these games are against Metropolitan Division opponents while the fourth is against Toronto. The Maple Leafs happen to hold the second wild-card spot that the Flyers previously had going into the bye week.
 
“Guys realize the situation we are in,” Brayden Schenn said. “We know the circumstances. The break came at a good time, mentally ... guys know what we’re coming into there with the back-to-backs.
 
“You were kind of scoreboard watching. We know where we’re at. We’re in a dogfight battle with teams for those wild-card spots. There’s a lot of hockey left. It’s no secret. Everyone pays attention where we’re at.”
 
Hakstol said after his one-day off, he went right back to work in evaluating where this team is. That the team remains intact without any kind of moves seems to send a message to the players.
 
That message is: it’s on you at this point. Don’t count on getting help from the outside. It has to come from within the current roster.
 
“Anything we’ve talked about is us as a group doing things we do well,” Hakstol said. “We’ve had a rough couple weeks where we haven’t been able to do the things we need to and want to consistently.
 
“I’m very confident in this group and this team. For us, what the players said is true. It was a real good time to have a mental and physical break. Now it’s time to get back to work.”
 
What has to improve right from the get-go is the Flyers' 5-on-5 play. Forget for a moment they have scored 75 goals and are 13th in the NHL averaging 2.76 goals a game.
 
The critical factor is 5-on-5 goals against. The Flyers have allowed 98 goals in that situation — only Colorado (100 GA) has allowed more. The Flyers' 3.13 goals-against number is 28th worst in the league.
 
Unless those numbers improve significantly, the Flyers won’t be in the playoffs.
 
“We have to stay within our system,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “We give up too many odd-man rushes. Especially in those final games before the break. That’s a big thing.
 
“When we’re giving up that many, it’s not going to be in our favor. It’s not fair to judge our goalies in those games because we didn’t give them too much help out there.”
 
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who plays on a checking line, said the 5-on-5 goals against is a telling stat.
 
“You have it right there,” he said. “You don’t have to say much more than that. You cannot be a consistently good team in the league if you are that low in goals against. It’s something we have to all work together at, as players.”
 
Hakstol said the Flyers enjoyed success 5-on-5 when they were winning because their team play was “consistent” game to game.
 
That hasn’t been the case during this 3-8-3 stretch.
 
“Our 5-on-5 game hasn’t necessarily regressed, but the consistency of it has,” Hakstol said. “That’s when you see the holes defensively. That’s when you see some of the problems you run into.
 
“We’ve got to get back to it. Back to a full 60 minutes of good 5-on-5 play. That’s up to each and every one of us, taking that responsibility and making the push to do that.”