Flyers' third line sparks victory over Sabres

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Flyers' third line sparks victory over Sabres

BOX SCORE

Were it not for a concussion and eye injury, who knows what kind of stats Steve Downie might have at this point.

He came here in a trade from Colorado for Max Talbot, got into a fight and missed four games.

Since he's come back, well, he’s been an assist machine for the Flyers. Downie added two more assists Thursday night during the Flyers' 4-1 win over the hapless Buffalo Sabres (see Instant Replay).

That’s five assists in six games as a Flyer and 11 assists overall this season. Both his assists were first assists, setting up two Matt Read goals that helped the Flyers erase a 1-0 deficit and never look back on Buffalo.

“We just got a couple openings,” Downie said, downplaying his role on Sean Couturier’s third line. “Matt Read had a great shot.

Flyers coach Craig Berube feels Downie is a perfect fit on this line.

“He creates offense for that line,” Berube said. “He’s got very good vision and he’s strong on the puck. Makes a lot of little plays. Your checking the other team’s top line with [them] and it’s nice to get some offense, too.

“He provides that. He’s a good player along the walls. He doesn’t panic with the puck on the wall. He’s strong. He’ll eat it [if necessary] and do the right things.”

Couturier’s line had six points in the game with those two goals.

“Yes, we are getting comfortable together,” Downie said. “We’re getting to know each other now and where we are going to be. Tonight, it worked out and we are getting better. If we want to get into playoffs, we have to keep pushing.

“I’m just trying to do my job. I play similar every night. Some nights you get points and some you don’t. We got bounces tonight.”

Couturier was impressed.

“He’s a smart player out there,” he said of Downie. “He’s creating some plays and creating some space for us, me and Reader. Ever since he’s gotten here, it’s been easier. He’s all over the ice and it’s nice to play with him.

“Downs is creating a lot of space out there. It’s fun, I mean, we’re having some good chemistry now and hopefully we can keep having success.”

There really wasn’t a whole lot going on with the Flyers peppering goalie Ryan Miller with some tough shots for almost 30 minutes.

“The first period we got away from our system,” mused Read. “We were playing pond hockey. We weren’t playing smart, physical hockey, getting pucks deep.

“We talked on the bench, Downie, Coots and I about keeping it simple, getting pucks deep and going to work. And it happened in back-to-back shifts and we got a couple lucky bounces and couple lucky goals.

The first goal saw Downie pass from behind the net into the high slot where Read shot.

“I didn't get all of it,” Read said. “I don't know what happened, I think Miller might have fell down. But, luckily, I'll take that to tie the game up.”

A little over a minute later, Read gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead with his sixth goal overall and second of the game off a faceoff in the Buffalo zone.

“I was forechecking their [defense] and I saw Coots get the puck,” Read said. “I just stayed in front of the net and he fired the puck to me. I caught it and had all the time in the world and put it upstairs.”

Yep, high under the crossbar after Miller committed.

Best of NHL: Capitals blow lead, rebound for OT win over Bruins

Best of NHL: Capitals blow lead, rebound for OT win over Bruins

WASHINGTON -- Nicklas Backstrom scored 1:36 into overtime, helping the Washington Capitals beat the Boston Bruins 4-3 after blowing a three-goal lead Wednesday night.

Justin Williams scored twice and Daniel Winnik also had a goal to put Washington ahead 3-0 about six minutes into the second period.

After Winnik's tally, Washington went over 26 minutes without a shot on goal. Boston dominated the final five minutes of the second period, when Dominic Moore and David Pastrnak beat goaltender Braden Holtby. Colin Miller's power-play score 8:19 into third tied it at 3.

Boston arrived in Washington 4-0-1 over its last five games with three wins in a row, including a 4-3 overtime triumph against Florida on Monday night.

Evgeny Kuznetsov had two assists for the Capitals and Alex Ovechkin got his first point since Nov. 26.

Boston outshot Washington 34-20. The Capitals have won two straight following a three-game losing skid (see full recap).

Staal scores on Leafs again in Wild win
TORONTO -- Eric Staal scored yet another goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs, lifting the Minnesota Wild to a 3-2 victory on Wednesday night.

Staal has 47 points in 43 career games against Toronto, and three of his six goals this season have come against the Leafs.

Jason Zucker and Chris Stewart also scored for the Wild, who wrapped a five-game trip 2-1-2.

Ben Smith and Tyler Bozak had goals for the Maple Leafs, who dropped to 8-4-0 at Air Canada Centre.

Devan Dubnyk made 35 saves for Minnesota and Frederik Andersen stopped 17 shots for Toronto (see full recap).

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

VOORHEES, N.J. — They are among the very best – and highest scoring — lines in the NHL this season.
 
And they’re gunning for the Flyers on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Connor McDavid’s unit with Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl have a combined 30 goals and 78 points worth of offense. 
 
Among them, the lightning quick McDavid leads the NHL with 36 points. All 11 of his goals are even strength. 
 
He doesn’t have a single power-play goal, but is tied for the league lead with several players, including Claude Giroux, with 10 power-play assists.
 
You can expect to see Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s unit with Chris VandeVelde and Dale Weise against this line with defenseman Ivan Provorov drawing McDavid for the first time this season.
 
“Speed and skill that Edmonton has up front presents a real good challenge for our team,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “We have to be better with the puck tomorrow. 
 
“We didn’t do enough when we had the puck. Gave it up a little too easily and because of that, you end up playing defense a lot of the night and that’s what happened last night to us.”
 
Bellemare, who had his share of forward battles with Jaromir Jagr in Tuesday, likes to analyze the matchups against McDavid.
 
“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Bellemare said of the 19-year-old McDavid. “It’s tough not to be excited when playing against a guy who plays like this. He competes every second he is on the ice. That line is an impressive line.”
 
The Flyers better have some bad, choppy ice to slow McDavid down. Edmonton has some of the fastest ice in the league and the Oilers use it to their full advantage. 
 
Asked of McDavid’s tendencies, Bellemare said, “Is that a tendency? To be super fast?”
 
Yes it is. 
 
“When you play against them, he is a kid who is freaky fast right from the start,” Bellemare said. “Against that line, you saw [against Buffalo] that everyone knows how fast he is and he still had two breakaways.”
 
Which means the Flyers need to watch their turnovers, especially in the neutral zone where McDavid can go 60 feet in a flash.
 
“Even blue line to the top of the circle, you can’t turn the puck over,” Bellemare said. “Or he’s gone. This is a tendency we have to be careful of. All of the ice, you can’t give him any time or space. The less time you give him, the bigger chance you have to frustrate a player like this.”
 
Bellemare did some talking with Jagr a couple times in Tuesday’s game. So did Provorov. Bellemare says it helps to add psychology to the mix.
 
“You try to be in his face,” Bellemare said. “If you can win that battle against that line and our first line can win the battle against their fourth line, then it’s a win-win situation. I was trying to be in [Jagr’s] face.”
 
Jagr actually got angrier at Provorov and it showed with his hooking calls. But when Bellemare and Jagr went into the corner, Jagr got testy with his stick there as well.
 
“He was trying to give it to me a little harder,” Bellemare said. “Exactly what I need. If he is less focused on the puck, then maybe I have a chance to win that puck.”
 
McDavid’s focus will be solely on the puck.
 
“McDavid has been playing some pretty good hockey,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “They’re a high-tempo team. A smart team. We’ve got to be ready.”
 
Loose pucks
Boyd Gordon came off long term injured reserve onto the active roster to give the Flyers 13 forwards. In doing that, Matt Read (oblique pull) went on injured reserve. … Defenseman Michael Del Zotto will sit against the Oilers while Radko Gudas returns from an illness. Gudas will be paired with Mark Streit, as Ivan Provorov remains with Andrew MacDonald for now. … Steve Mason, who did not practice Wednesday, will start in goal.