PREVIEW: FLYERS @ SABRES
Craig Berube’s Philadelphia Flyers (17-21-7) are on the road to take on Ted Nolan’s Buffalo Sabres (14-28-3) on Saturday night. Game time is 7:00 p.m. EST. The game will be televised on CSN Philadelphia.
This is the first of three matches between the teams. They will rematch on Feb. 15 in Buffalo and Feb.
19 in Philadelphia.
The Flyers had an off-day from practice on Friday after playing three games in the previous four nights. Tonight’s game will be their fourth in six nights. The Sabres have played on an alternating-night basis this week, and today’s game will be the third in five nights but just the fourth in nine nights. The Sabres held a full practice on Friday. Flyers outlook
Over their last 21 games overall, the Flyers are 9-8-4. The team has been shut out in back-to-back games, losing 1-0 in Washington on Wednesday and returning home the next night to absorb a 4-0 defeat at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks.
In Thursday’s game, Philadelphia dominated the early minutes but deflated badly after Vancouver scored its first goal and never regained any significant momentum. The Flyers trailed 2-0 at the first intermission and then yielded two early goals in the second period to seal their fate.
Ray Emery lasted 21:21 in goal against the Canucks, yielding three goals on 12 shots. He was relieved by Rob Zepp, who was beaten on a breakaway moments after entering the game but then stopped each of the next nine shots he faced.
Zepp is likely to get the start in goal in Buffalo. In four appearances and three starts, he has a 2.21 goals against average and .909 save percentage.
Four is the magic number for the 2014-15 Flyers. When scoring four or more goals, Philly is 13-1-1. However, the team’s 7-3 blowout win over Tampa Bay on Monday marked the only time since the Christmas break — a span of 11 games — that the club has scored four goals in a game. Over that span, the Flyers are 3-7-1 and winless (0-5-1) on the road.
Offensively, the only consistently productive players for the Flyers this season have been Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux and defenseman Mark Streit. When they are shut down, the Flyers struggle for offense as well as being prone to a few killer defensive lapses per game.
Philadelphia has struggled to win low-scoring games this season. The Flyers have won just four this season in which they’ve scored fewer than four regulation/overtime goals. When scoring three or fewer goals in a game, Philly has a 4-20-6 record. That includes just one win when scoring three (1-3-3) non-shootout goals in a game and a pair of wins (2-4-1) when scoring two goals. The team does not own any 1-0 wins this year but did pick up one point from a 0-0 tie after 65 minutes that ended in a shootout loss to the New York Islanders.
Penalty killing has by far been the Flyers single biggest problem this season. The club’s 73.5 percent penalty killing percentage is not only the lowest in the NHL during the 2014-15 season, it’s the worst of any NHL team since the 1993-94 Ottawa Senators (73.3%).
At even strength, the Flyers are a shade below the break-even point on the season. The team scores an average 0.97 goals at five-on-five for each one it yields. That is far from stellar, of course, but 11 NHL teams have done worse this season.
The power play remains Philadelphia’s biggest strength, which has been the case for multiple seasons. Even after going 0-for-4 against Vancouver, the team’s 22.2 percent power play success rate ranks 6th in the NHL. At home, the Flyers top the NHL at 28.6 percent. On the road, power play goals have been much harder to come by for Philly. The team’s 15.8 percent success rate away from the Wells Fargo Center ranks 16th. St. Louis paces the NHL at 27.3 percent and nine teams are clicking at 20 percent or higher on the road.
Entering Thursday’s game, Jakub Voracek still leads the NHL Art Ross Trophy race with 52 points. However, Voracek has only one multi-point game since the Christmas break and has been kept off the scoresheet in six of the last 11 games. The Czech forward leads the Flyers with 17 goals, one ahead of Wayne Simmonds.
Giroux is fourth in the NHL with 34 assists and is tied for fourth in points with 48. His 22 power play points (eight power play goals, 14 assists) are second in the NHL to St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk’s 24 points.
Streit is tied for fourth among NHL defensemen this season with 31 overall scoring points (five goals, 26 assists). The veteran Swiss player is tied for 3rd among NHL defensemen with 16 power play points. It is worth noting, however, that’s Streit’s season plus-minus differential at even strength has plunged from plus-nine at the Christmas break to his current plus-one.
From an offensive standpoint, the rest of the picture isn’t pretty. Start with the streak-scoring Simmonds and Brayden Schenn, who have both been in goal-scoring funks in recent weeks.
Simmonds still leads the team with nine power play tallies among his 16 goals. However, he has just one goal and four points in the 11 games since Christmas and two goals and six points over the last 15 games. Schenn, who has 10 goals and 27 points on the season, has one goal and four points since Christmas and one goal and seven points over the last 18 games (dating back to Dec. 11).
Matt Read, who reportedly was playing through a high-ankle sprain, has been stuck on three goals for the season since Dec. 11 and has only one goal and nine points in his last 29 games. Regular linemate Sean Couturier enjoyed a strong month of December (five goals, 12 points, plus-five in 14 games) but has just one point in eight January games.
The much-maligned R.J. Umberger, has actually been one of the team’s more productive secondary scorers in the last six weeks. In his last 22 games, Umberger has six goals and eight points. That is not enough to rescue what has been a highly disappointing season for him, but it is at least a measure of progress.
Vincent Lecavalier, who had five goals in the team’s season-high eight-game road trip in December to early January, is pointless in the last six games and has two points (one goal, one assist) thus far in the month of January.
Philadelphia has recently been bitten by the injury bug with regularity of late. Rookie center Scott Laughton is day-to-day with an upper-body injury sustained on Wednesday. Defenseman Braydon Coburn (left foot) is expected to miss approximately four weeks from Jan. 12. Starting goaltender Steve Mason is expected to miss up to two weeks with the suspected right knee injury he sustained on Jan. 10. Defenseman Nicklas Grossmann (right shoulder) is expected to miss approximately three weeks from an injury sustained on Jan. 8. Sabres outlook
If not for the Edmonton Oilers, the Sabres would be a lock to get one of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel in the NHL Draft in June. Winless in the month of January, Buffalo has dropped nine straight games. Every defeat in that span has been of the regulation-loss variety, and Buffalo has been outscored by a combined 39-9 margin during the losing streak.
For the season, however, the Sabres have not been horrendous on home ice. The club has come away with points from 12 of 24 home games (10-12-2) this season, compared with a 4-16-1 mark on the road. However, Thursday’s home goal against Minnesota was about as ugly as it gets for a team in today’s NHL.
The Sabres are by far the lowest-scoring team in the NHL, averaging a scant 1.69 goals per game. Even 29th-ranked Edmonton has managed to score 2.22 goals per game. Meanwhile, Buffalo is the bottom-ranked NHL team defensively, yielding 3.47 opposition goals per game. Edmonton is second-worst at 3.31 goals yielded per game.
Although the Oilers have an NHL-worst 29 points to Buffalo’s second-worst 31, the Sabres rank in the NHL basement in most major categories. Apart from having the fewest goals scored and the most goals against, they are also the worst on faceoffs, worst on the power play and worst at five-on-five. However, the Sabres are not the worst penalty killing team. The Flyers and Coyotes have done worse than the 28th-ranked Sabres in that area.
Buffalo enters this game coming off a 7-0 whipping by a Minnesota Wild team that took out their own recent frustrations on Nolan’s team. Buffalo trailed 2-0 after the first period and 5-0 at the second intermission, while getting outshot 37-18 for the game. The Sabres put themselves shorthanded six times (the Wild went 2-for-6 on the power play). Jhonas Enroth absorbed the entire thrashing in goal. Buffalo went 0-for-2 on its power plays.
Entering this game, Tyler Ennis leads the Sabres in overall scoring with 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists) and four power play goals. Voted as a starter in the NHL All-Star Game by Sabres fans his Latvian fan base, Zemgus Girgensons (11 goals, 20 points) is the lone Buffalo player who currently has double-digit goals on the season. Ennis and Drew Stafford are tied for the team assist lead with 15 apiece. Tyler Myers’ eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 37 games are the most from the Buffalo blueline.
Former Flyers defenseman Andrej Meszaros has five points (one goal, four assists) and is minus-10 in 30 games this season while averaging 17:52 of ice time. He was minus-three in Thursday’s debacle against Minnesota. Meszaros, an unrestricted free agent in the summer, is on a one-year, $4.125 million contract he signed with Buffalo in the offseason.
The Sabres’ blueline features a pair of 2013 first-round picks. Eighth overall pick Rasmus Ristolainen (43 games, seven points, 18 penalty minutes, minus-22) and 16th overall pick Nikita Zadorov (32 games, six points, 37 penalty minutes, minus-10) have been experiencing the already-tough NHL learning curve under the even more difficult circumstances of doing so on a team undergoing a complete rebuild.
On the Buffalo injury front, Marcus Foligno (hand), Brian Gionta (upper body) and Cody McCormick (blood clot) are all on IR. Key team stat comparisons (NHL overall ranking)
Non-shootout goals per game: Flyers 2.62 (T-20th), Sabres 1.69 (30th)
Non-shootout goals against per game: Flyers 2.87 (23rd), Sabres 3.47 (30th)
Even strength Goals For/Against Ratio: Flyers 0.97 (19th), Sabres 0.57 (30th)
Power play efficiency: Flyers 22.2% (6th), Sabres 8.8% (30th)
Penalty killing efficiency: Flyers 73.5% (30th), Sabres 75.2% (28th)
Faceoff percentage: Flyers 50.8% (13th), Sabres 45.0% (30th) Projected lineups (Subject to change, will be updated)
12 Michael Raffl – 28 Claude Giroux – 93 Jakub Voracek
18 R.J. Umberger – 10 Brayden Schenn – 17 Wayne Simmonds
36 Zac Rinaldo – 14 Sean Couturier – 24 Matt Read
76 Chris VandeVelde – 78 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – 40 Vincent Lecavalier
15 Michael Del Zotto – 55 Nick Schultz
47 Andrew MacDonald – 32 Mark Streit
26 Carlo Colaiacovo – 22 Luke Schenn
72 Rob Zepp
[29 Ray Emery]
Scratches: Scott Laughton (upper body), Braydon Coburn (left foot), Nicklas Grossmann (IR, right shoulder), Steve Mason (IR, right knee).
65 Brian Flynn – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 80 Chris Stewart
26 Matt Moulson – 17 Torrey Mitchell – 63 Tyler Ennis
19 Cody Hodgson – 84 Phil Varone – 21 Drew Stafford
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 37 Matt Ellis – 36 Patrick Kaleta
57 Tyler Myers – 4 Josh Gorges
51 Nikita Zadorov – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Mike Weber – 41 Andrej Meszaros
1 Jhonas Enroth / 34 Michal Neuvirth
Scratches: Marcus Foligno (IR, hand), Cody McCormick (IR, blood clot), Brian Gionta (IR, upper body), Tyson Strachan (healthy), Andre Benoit (healthy), Zac Dalpe (healthy).
*********** FLYERS ALUMNI TO PLAY IN 3RD ANNUAL CENTER FOR AUTISM WINTER CLASSIC
On January 17, 2015, the Flyers Alumni will play in the third annual Center for Autism Winter Classic. The event will be held at the IceWorks Skating Complex, Rink #3, in Aston, PA. All proceeds will benefit the work the Center does to support evaluation and treatment services for children and families in the Philadelphia region.
Puck drop for the game game between the Flyers Alumni and the Autism Puzzlers will be at 7;30 p.m. with doors opening at 7:00. Ninety minutes prior to doors opening, at 5:30 p.m., day-of-event tickets will be available along with a silent auction. In addition to the silent auction, the Winter Classic activities will include a 50/50 raffle, a Chuck-a-Puck contest, and a postgame autograph signing & player meet & greet with the Flyers Alumni.
For more information, visit the Flyers Alumni official website.