Flyers vs. Sabres preview: Points vital as playoff race tightens

The big storyline heading into tonight's game against the Buffalo Sabres is that Ville Leino makes his first trip back to Philadelphia since he signed in there over the summer. Wait, what? We're still talking about the guy who has 15 points in 45 games this year? I guess it's still pretty hilarious, but there are more important things at hand tonight ...

7 p.m. tonight at Wells Fargo Center in South Philly
TV: CSN Philly, MSG Buffalo | Radio: 94 WIP [feed]
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... like, for example, how the Flyers can't seem to win a hockey game. Go over to the NHL Standings right now. It's not pretty, but just do it. The Flyers are tied with the Penguins for second place in the Atlantic -- and thus, are barely hanging on to 4th place in the Eastern Conference, needed for home ice. All of the sudden, the Flyers are TEN POINTS behind the Rangers, who are running away with the division title.

Scarier, though, is that the Devils are closing in on the Flyers as well. They sit just a point back, and are probably in a better position than Pittsburgh given that they've played one fewer game than the Pens. Things are tightening way up, and while there's an extremely fair argument to be made that finishing in the No. 6 spot might be more beneficial than finishing in the No. 4 or No. 5 spot, it's still gonna take some losing for that to happen.

Losing isn't good. It's not fun. But the Flyers have been doing plenty of it over the last few weeks. Will it stop tonight?

Well, the Sabres are pretty awful in just about every way you can imagine. They've lost their last two games, but they've also beaten the Bruins 6-0 this month and they took they shutout the Rangers before losing in the shootout on Feb. 1, so it's not as if they're completely inept.

This really all comes down to what the Flyers do tonight, though. Forget the opponent: It's about the Flyers getting back on track in all departments. It starts with Ilya Bryzgalov, who's recovered from the flu and expected to be back in goal for the first time since a shootout loss to the Islanders on Feb. 7. It's been a while, so we'll have to see which version of Bryz we get tonight.

Jaromir Jagr is reportedly out with the flu, and Eric Wellwood's been called up again from the Phantoms. Zac Rinaldo will serve the first game of his two-game suspension, so Jody Shelley will play for the first time since Feb. 4 against the Devils.

The worst part about this rough stretch is that the Flyers haven't been playing all that poorly. It's little things that have killed them, primarily: brain farts in the defensive end, taking too many penalties and looking awful on the PK, bad performances in the shootout. They've been pretty solid at 5-on-5 against some really good teams in the Rangers and Red Wings, and they've probably deserved better fates in a few of these last six games.

Maybe a few days off is what they needed to shake off the rust. Let's hope so, because the race for playoff positioning is getting awfully tight. Game thread tonight at 5 p.m., action on CSN and WIP. MSG if you're lucky enough to be in Buffalo.

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