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.

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Chris Kunitz beat Craig Anderson 5:09 into the second overtime to give the defending champions a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

Kunitz scored twice, his first two of the playoffs. Justin Schultz added the other in his return from an upper-body injury, and Matt Murray stopped 28 shots on his 23rd birthday.

The Penguins are trying to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 to win back-to-back titles. They will host Western Conference champion Nashville in Game 1 on Monday night.

Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel scored for Ottawa. The Senators rallied twice to tie it, with Dzingel making it 2-2 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Craig Anderson made 39 saves, but couldn't get a handle on Kunitz's shot from just outside the left circle. The Senators are 0-6 in Game 7s in franchise history.

The Senators forced a return trip to Pittsburgh -- where they lost 7-0 loss in Game 5 on Sunday -- by leaning heavily on Anderson in a 2-1 Game 6 victory, putting both teams at odds with history.

Ottawa came in 0-for-25 years in winner-take-all games, while the Penguins were 0-7 in Game 7s at home in series in which they also dropped Game 6.

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher told his resilient team to not get caught up in the big picture but instead focus on the small ones, a recipe that carried the Senators throughout a bumpy transition under their first-year head coach to the brink of the franchise's second Cup appearance.

The Penguins, trying to become the first defending champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009, came in confident they would advance if they could replicate their dominant Game 6, when they were undone only by Anderson's brilliance.

Pittsburgh has been nearly unflappable in the face of adversity under Mike Sullivan, going 12-2 in playoff games following a loss over the last two springs. He encouraged his team to "just play," code for fighting through Ottawa's neutral zone-clogging style and the bumping, grabbing and pulling that comes along with it.

A chance to play for their sport's ultimate prize on the line, the sheets of open ice the Penguins found so easily in Games 4-6 closed up. For most of the first 30 minutes, loose pucks hopped over sticks to spoil some scoring opportunities while Anderson and Murray gobbled up the rest.

Kunitz, relegated to the fourth line since returning from injury in the second round, picked up his first postseason goal in a calendar year when he completed a two-on-one with Conor Sheary -- a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 -- by slipping the puck by Anderson 9:55 into the second period.

The momentum lasted all of 20 seconds. Ottawa responded immediately with Stone -- who stretched his left skate to stay onside -- fired a wrist shot that handcuffed Murray.

Pittsburgh kept coming. Schultz, returning after missing four games with an upper-body injury, zipped a shot from the point through Kunitz's screen and into the net with 8:16 left in the third.

Once again, the Penguins could not hold the lead. Dzingel set up at the right post and banged home a rebound off Erik Karlsson's shot that hit the left post and caromed off Murray's back right to Dzingel's stick.

Notes
The home team is 21-20 in overtime Game 7s in NHL playoff history. ... Pittsburgh F Patric Hornqvist skated during warmups, but was held out of the lineup for a sixth straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Karlsson had 16 assists in the playoffs to set a team record. ... The Penguins are 10-7 in Game 7s. ... It was the fifth one-goal game of the series.

Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Flyers

Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Flyers

All week on Philly Sports Talk on CSN, we examine how our teams got to this point and where they are in the rebuilding process. 
 
Today, we finish up by taking a look at the Flyers.

 
How did we get here?
The Flyers' rebuild had begun when Ron Hextall returned to his old stomping grounds in the summer of 2013 as the team's new assistant general manager.
 
He took over GM duties after one season and the philosophical change was in place. Paul Holmgren was made president and Hextall's imprint, which had already started, was ready to become bigger.
 
What Hextall inherited was a cap-stricken team fresh off a first-round playoff loss, an organization that had tried to spend its way to immediate results instead of putting greater focus on the long game.
 
Some of the past decisions are well-documented: signing enigmatic goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million deal in 2011 after trading for him. With a buyout, the Flyers are still paying Bryzgalov through 2027. Signing veteran center Vinny Lecavalier to a five-year, $22.5 million contract in 2013. And signing imposing defenseman Chris Pronger to a seven-year, $34.55 million extension — nobody could foresee the unfortunate concussion issues that suddenly derailed Pronger's career, but it was nonetheless a hurdle for the Flyers moving forward.
 
Hextall has adeptly maneuvered through much of those rocky waters.
 
Now, the Flyers are a more cost-efficient (partly because they have to be in this salary cap world), draft-oriented organization planning for the future while not ignoring the present. This rebuild hasn't been a total demolition, but more of a retooling — a smart but tricky process, especially down the line.
 
Are the Flyers on the right path back to prosperity?
The youth is coming.
 
Hextall, oftentimes close to the vest, made that abundantly clear at his end-of-the-season press conference.
 
"Our young players, they've done enough," Hextall said in early April. "Our young players are going to get a long look. We don't plan on going out and signing veterans on the back end. Our kids, it's time to give them a shot, and we're going to do that."
 
But the really hard part is just beginning — results. Can the prospects catch up and meet the current core? The pressure for it to start has never been higher.
 
Help does appear to be on the way, though, for a team that regressed this season and missed the playoffs for the third time in the past five years.
 
Anthony Stolarz, Alex Lyon, Felix Sandstrom and Carter Hart give the Flyers future options in net.
 
Two promising prospects are expected to join Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere and company on the blue line.
 
Oskar Lindblom, a dynamic 20-year-old winger, could crack the Flyers' group of forwards, which should have Jordan Weal and Valtteri Filppula for a full season.
 
Also, don't forget forward Mike Vecchione, a Hobey Baker finalist who signed with the Flyers out of Union College in late March.
 
Oh, and the No. 2 pick of the draft — likely a talented center — is in the Flyers' grasp.
 
The 2017-18 season will be a telling time for the Flyers. Patience has been required, but when will it be rewarded?
 
The clock is ticking.