There was no question: After three tough losses in five days, tonight's game against the near-basement-dwelling Buffalo Sabres was a must-win.
And in the first period, the Philadelphia Flyers came out and treated it as such, dominating possession, forcing the Sabres into penalties, peppering Ryan Miller with pucks and jumping out to an early lead. Given the way the Flyers played early, this game should have never been a contest, but that's sort of the way things go with our team this year. It's never really all that easy.
The Flyers did hang on to win, 3-2, but they needed several big saves from Ilya Bryzgalov, a bit of luck on Simon Gagne's early goal that shouldn't have snuck through Miller's pads, and one big time save from Brayden Schenn on a puck that did the same through Bryzgalov's pads in the third.
The outcome of the game was certainly a fair one, and we're obviously happy with it and the Flyers effort. But a bit more comfort late in the game would have been swell. Let's get to some bullet points.
* Despite the close score and Buffalo's chances to tie it late in the third, the Flyers really were unquestionably the better hockey team. They were all over loose pucks, they didn't give Buffalo the ability to sustain much zone time overall and the Flyers physical game really seemed to get to the Sabres.
* Zac Rinaldo may have had his best game as a Flyer. He got a little over the edge with a misconduct in the third period (and it was a bad call considering he was called for a charge without hitting anybody), but overall he drew several penalties and was a positive, noticeable player each time he stepped on the ice. We like this Zac Rinaldo.
* Ruslan Fedotenko combined with Max Talbot for a beautiful shorthanded goal in the first period. It was the most beautiful thing they've ever done together (while winning a Cup with the Penguins together sits firmly at the other side of the beauty spectrum).
* Buffalo's two goals were both preventable. The first one was particularly egregious since the Flyers played the entirety of the even strength shift with just four men on the ice. Danny Briere went off for a change and nobody came out to replace him. Buffalo had a power play by default as a result and they used the extra man to their advantage.
* The second Buffalo goal was actually of the real special teams variety. Steve Ott (ugh) beat Claude Giroux at the blue line with the Flyers on the power play and then went 2-on-1 with Jochen Hecht, who beat Bryzgalov with the shot. Giroux bobbling the puck at the blue line on the power play isn't something that happens often, but it was particularly frustrating given that the goal made the score 3-2 in the third period of a game that should have been long over.
* .... oh, and it was Steve Ott.
* I think Claude Giroux's goal was a set play. The Flyers all stopped at the blue line, the puck was dropped back to Claude who was trailing, and then he broke in and took the confused Sabres defense on by himself. It got him some great positioning and he was able to roof a nice shot over Miller's shoulder as a result.
* The Flyers are using Knock Knock as their victory song again, and it blared from the locker room after tonight's win. Hey, as long as it works.
* Bryz really was good tonight. Lots of people have been asking him to make the big save. He did it more than once tonight. Nice bounce back for him.
* Andrej Meszaros was really bad tonight. He's just coming off of a lengthy injury and he's obviously not up to top speed, but he's hurting the Flyers when he's on the ice. He looks like he's standing in quick sand half the time. Obviously the team is in a tough position generally on defense so there's no option but to play him, really, but let's hope he can get in gear sooner than later because right now I don't think it's a stretch to say he's hurting the team more than he's helping.
* Wayne Simmonds hit Tyler Ennis in the first period and Sabres fans over at Die By The Blade are really angry about it. Simmonds wasn't penalized for it, though, and rightfully so. Ennis clearly turned at the last second and turned what would have been a shoulder-to-shoulder brush into a nasty hit where his face hit the glass. It's clearly written into the NHL rulebook that players are responsible for not putting themselves in a vulnerable position when it comes to this stuff, and Ennis absolutely did that. Simmonds won't be suspended and that's the right call.
* Luke Schenn, meanwhile, might be facing some discipline. If the hit on Ennis was the example of a player finishing his hit while an opponent put himself in a vulnerable position, Schenn's hit on Nathan Gerbe was the opposite. Gerbe turned, but Schenn had plenty of time to change course before delivering the hit. The puck was gone. He got two for it and we might see a hearing on Monday regarding this one.
Overall, the Flyers just need to build on this now. I feel like we've said this a hundred times after a good win this season, but we're more than halfway through here. They need to string wins together and they need to do it now. One win does not take them off the edge. Back at it on Wednesday against the Devils.
Comment of the Night
I think so. Harder for the bears to swipe your jugular that way, and prevents burning up on re-entry.
>> KreiderDesigns, on Bryz's throat protector