Vinny Lecavalier breaks out of slump with late, game-winning goal as Flyers escape Buffalo with win

Vinny Lecavalier breaks out of slump with late, game-winning goal as Flyers escape Buffalo with win

On Tuesday evening, the Philadelphia Flyers traveled to Buffalo with a perfect opportunity to snap out of their mini funk with a matchup against the NHL’s worst team, the Sabres, and erase the memories of their lost weekend.

While they didn’t play their best game by any means, the Flyers got a key, late goal from a slumping player who desperately needed one and headed home on a winning note.

Vinny Lecavalier snapped his 13-game goalless drought when he fired a one-timer from the dot past Sabres’ goalie Jhonas Enroth with just 14.8 seconds left in regulation to unknot a tied game and give the Flyers a 4-3 win over the Sabres at First Niagara Center.

Jake Voracek, Brayden Schenn and Scott Hartnell also scored for Philadelphia in the victory.

But it was Lecavalier’s goal that had everyone talking after the game and not just because it won the game.

The goal snapped Lecavalier’s 13-game goalless drought – his longest goalless drought since his rookie year of 1998-99 – and finally instilled some confidence back him after not scoring since before Thanksgiving. It also may have finally gotten him back on track after he missed nine games in December with a fracture in his back.

And, with as jumbled as the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference standings are, the Flyers are going to need Lecavalier back on track and putting up points if they are going to break away from the rest of the pack.

He’s more than capable of scoring goals and putting up points in bunches. That’s why the Flyers signed the 33-year-old to a five-year, $22.5 million deal this past offseason. Time will tell if Tuesday’s game-winner is the start of a scoring binge for Lecavalier. The Flyers sure hope it is.

As for the game itself, there wasn’t much to write home about for most of the contest. The Flyers didn’t play very well and were once again sloppy, turnover-prone and couldn’t generate much offensively.

But things escalated quickly with about 13 minutes left.

Buffalo broke a 1-1 tie around that point when Matt D’Agostini dove tipped a Steve Ott pass home past Steve Mason. But Philadelphia responded seven minutes later when Brayden Schenn found himself all alone with a loose puck and spun it past Enroth to knot the game back up.

Scott Hartnell cashed in on a one-timer from the dot on a power play to give the Flyers their first lead of the game with just over four minutes left.  It wouldn’t last long though as the Sabres’ Tyler Ennis slid a weak goal through the legs of Mason to knot the game yet again.

Never fear, because it was time for Lecavalier to don the hero cape as he took a pass from Matt Read, who made his return after missing six games with a concussion, and slammed it home after a net-mouth scramble for the win and the escape from Buffalo.

Mason wasn’t tested much in the game but made 16 saves on 19 shots for the win. That Ennis goal is definitely one he would like to have back, though.

In all honestly, if the Flyers were playing almost any other team beside the terrible Sabres, the result probably would have been much different, and not in a good way. The Flyers played most of the game the way they played over the weekend and were lucky to get the win this time around. They have to tighten some things up going forward.

They’ll get their first chance to do just that when the Nashville Predators visit Wells Fargo Center on Thursday evening.

Tonight's lineup: Odubel Herrera leads off for first time in 84 games

Tonight's lineup: Odubel Herrera leads off for first time in 84 games

A day after going 0 for 5 with five strikeouts, Odubel Herrera is leading off for the Phillies in their series opener Friday night against the Reds (see game notes).

It's the first time Herrera is leading off since last Aug. 19, a span of 84 games.

Cesar Hernandez gets the night off, with Andres Blanco batting second and playing second.

Maikel Franco is back in the six-hole after going 1 for 5 with two strikeouts in the cleanup spot Thursday. Tommy Joseph bats fourth and Michael Saunders fifth.

Cameron Rupp, who walked three times in Thursday's win over the Rockies, catches Aaron Nola and bats seventh.

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Andres Blanco, 2B
3. Aaron Altherr, LF
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Michael Saunders, RF
6. Maikel Franco, 3B
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Aaron Nola, P

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Aaron Nola looks to build on extremely impressive return from DL

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Aaron Nola looks to build on extremely impressive return from DL

Phillies (16-29) vs. Reds (22-24)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Following their first win in a week, the Phillies open a new series this weekend against a beatable team in the Cincinnati Reds, who are 3-9 in their last 12 games and 1-7 in their last eight road games.

Let's have ourselves a look-see:

1. Nola's turn
Aaron Nola is on the mound tonight for his second start since a month-long DL stint. He was extremely impressive his last time out, allowing one run on four hits over seven innings in Pittsburgh.

Nola's fastball reached as high as 95.5 mph against the Pirates, which is notable because he threw only two pitches faster than 94 mph all of last season. His velocity was up before the lower back strain and it's a great sign that the elbow injury which ended his 2016 season is truly in the past.

In Pittsburgh, Nola (2-1, 3.52) threw 19 of 27 first-pitch strikes. He got 11 outs on the first three pitches of at-bats. 

He's faced the Reds twice in his career and dominated them both times, allowing two earned runs in 14 innings with one walk and 17 strikeouts.

Current Reds have gone 7 fo 39 (.179) against him with just two extra-base hits. Joey Votto is 0 for 5.

2. What to do with Odubel
Pete Mackanin has an interesting decision to make this weekend with slumping Odubel Herrera, who on Thursday became the first player in the majors this season to go 0 for 5 with five strikeouts in a game.

Herrera is down to .226 on the season with a .275 on-base percentage. In May, he's hit .194 with one walk and 28 strikeouts.

Mackanin could bench Herrera like he did with Maikel Franco for two games earlier this week. It would send a message to the player that poor at-bats and wild swings have consequences. And, quite frankly, sitting Herrera for a day or two might give the Phillies a better chance to win.

The issue, of course, is that there's a thin line between giving a player a chance to clear his head and ridding him of opportunities to get back on track.

Plus, the Phillies don't have great options in replacing Herrera in the lineup. They have a four-man bench at the moment and the only options would be putting Ty Kelly or Brock Stassi in left field and moving Aaron Altherr to center.

(Update: Mackanin is taking the opposite approach with Herrera, leading him off Friday night.)

Herrera just has not been himself this season and it's troubling. At this point last season, Herrera was hitting .327 with a .901 OPS. He's been an undisciplined hitter in 2017 and when you have two of them in the middle of the lineup in Herrera and Franco, it makes things really easy on pitchers at times.

Herrera started the year hot, hitting in his first eight games. Since then, he's hit .203/.239/.324 in 155 plate appearances with six walks and 42 K's.

3. Tommy time
Tommy Joseph has been one of the very best hitters in baseball this month, batting .329/.400/.671 with six doubles, six homers and 15 RBIs in 22 games.

He's 148 games and 499 plate appearances into his major-league career and has hit .257 with 23 doubles, 28 homers, 69 RBIs and an .804 OPS. That's about 10 points higher than the league average OPS from first basemen over that span.

Had Joseph's April slump continued into May, prospect Rhys Hoskins might have already been called up. But Joseph has done enough so far to hold off Hoskins, who appears to have more upside because of his combination of power and plate selection.

Controlling the strike zone is the next step for Joseph. He has a .311 OBP so far with 33 walks and 112 strikeouts as a Phillie.

But over the last two seasons, he's been one of the few Phils who's taken advantage of this ballpark. Joseph's hit .276 with an .844 OPS at Citizens Bank Park compared to .240 with a .769 OPS on the road.

4. Scouting the Reds
The Phillies face 29-year-old Reds right-hander Tim Adleman (2-2, 6.19).

You look at the ERA and think, OK, maybe the Phillies' bats will wake up tonight. But keep in mind that the Rockies' four starting pitchers this week entered the series with a combined 5.27 ERA and the Phillies scored three runs against them in 27 innings.

There's nothing special about the 6-foot-5 Adleman. He throws his fastball and sinker in the 88 to 91 mph range with a mid-80s changeup and mid-70s curveball. His opponents have hit .300 against his fastball and have eight extra-base hits with a .290 batting average against his changeup.

In six starts this season, Adleman's yet to go deeper than six innings. The Phils faced him last season and scored three runs in five innings. Cesar Hernandez went 2 for 2 with a walk and Franco went 1 for 3 with a double.

As for Cincinnati's offense, Votto is obviously the hitter you worry about most. He's hit .299/.422/.591 this season with 12 doubles, 12 homers, 38 RBIs, 35 walks and 24 strikeouts. A typical Votto season.

Shortstop Zack Cozart has been surprisingly hot these first two months, hitting .340 with 20 extra-base hits, 22 walks and 29 strikeouts. It's most surprising to see him walking this much because he never has. He's 15 walks away from matching his career high.

Leftfielder Adam Duvall has killed the Phillies over the last two seasons. He went 5 for 11 with two doubles and a homer in the season-opening series in Cincy and went 8 for 18 with four doubles against them last season.

5. This and that
• Over the last seven games, the Phillies' bullpen has allowed just two earned runs in 22⅔ innings.

• Howie Kendrick started at third base for Lehigh Valley during his rehab assignment Thursday. He was hit by two pitches and removed from the game.  

• Reds closer Raisel Iglesias is one of the most underrated relievers in baseball. He's 8 for 8 in save chances this season with a 0.73 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. He's struck out 28 and allowed just one home run in 24⅔ innings. His ability to go multiple innings is what makes him stand out — he's Andrew Miller-like in that regard. Iglesias has pitched more than one inning in 7 of his 19 appearances.