Alright -- I'll admit, I went into this game with low expectations all-around, just as I'm guessing most of us did. On the one hand, the Flyers went into tonight not having scored a goal in seven-plus periods of hockey and were coming off of one of their worst games of the season. On the other hand, they were facing a historically-bad even-strength team that is probably the worst team in the NHL.
And it took a while to get going. Blame whatever you want -- the Flyers very much looked like they were playing down to their competition's level in the first period. And they needed their power play -- which came through with two tallies in the second period, including one from the second unit -- to help them keep pace in the second, with another even-strength breakdown allowing the Sabres to get on the board again. Despite largely controlling possessionthroughout the game, this was not a win that the Flyers eased into.
But the win did come thanks to a pair of third-period goals that were befitting of the game that had preceded them. Early in the frame, Chris VandeVelde, off of a great pass from Vincent Lecavalier, whiffed on a breakaway shot, only to see it slide through Michal Neuvirth anyways. Then a few minutes later, a long shot from Michael Del Zotto rebounded off Neuvirth and right to Michael Raffl, who put it home into a yawning net to give the Flyers the winning goal. Buffalo kept it interesting -- scoring on a 6-on-4 with just over a minute left to bring it back within a goal -- but the lead would stand and the Flyers were back in the win column for the first time in three tries.
This win wasn't that pretty, and as a whole it wasn't a performance that probably beats most teams. But after going two games without a goal, we'll take them how we can get them.
SOME QUICK NOTES:
* A lot has been made this year of how the Flyers' depth scoring just hasn't been there, and how they're far too reliant on their top line and top power play unit. And that's all 100 percent valid. So on a night where the top line wasn't always at its best, it's nice to see where the goals were coming from: one from the top power play, one from the second power play, one from the fourth line, and one from ... I guess it's the second line? (More on that in a second.) But still, good to see the scoring spread around a bit.
* The forward lines were actually pretty steady throughout the game. We pretty much knew that would be the case coming in, though Matt Read being able to play prevented them from being thrown into full-on line blended mode. Zac Rinaldo got top-9 minutes playing alongside Raffl and Wayne Simmonds (and even contributed to the game-winning goal with a screen on Neuvirth, who clearly had no idea where the puck was as it bounced off of him), so that's, um, something.
* Andrew MacDonald was paired with Carlo Colaiacovo and the two of them respectively put up a +10 and +14 in even-strength Corsi for the night. Yikes, Buffalo.
* Rob Zepp wasn't too noteworthy one way or another. He had a nice save on a breakaway in the second period to keep the Flyers ahead for the time being, but he did look a bit off on the Sabres' two first two goals -- he didn't even move on Zemgus Girgensons' shot that opened the scoring, and he was left scrambling on the second one after it bounced off of the post and back in front. Still, it was a serviceable performance from Zepp in his fourth straight appearance. With the Flyers going to Long Island and then facing Pittsburgh in back-to-back games on Monday/Tuesday, the guess here is that Zepp faces the Islanders and then Ray Emery faces Pittsburgh. Still, it's getting easier to think that Craig Berube is comfortable with Zepp in net. Should be interesting to see the move once Steve Mason is healthy in a week or two.
* The penalty kill wasn't terrible? I think? Low bar here, as Buffalo came into the game sporting a cool 8.8 percent conversion rate, but they only scored late in the game with an extra attacker, and the Flyers consistently pushed play up into Buffalo's end with the man-advantage until then.
* Claude Giroux -- who, of course, left a game with a gruesome ankle injury just two weeks ago and only ended up missing one game because of it -- was seen with some blood on his ankle in the third period of the game, which is a bit unnerving to say the least. He says he's fine. Let's hope.
* Michael Del Zotto had two assists -- and made a nice move to keep play alive leading up to the first goal -- and was by far the team's leader in ice time tonight, at 23:31. If this is a sign of things to come, I like it. Del Zotto's played well this year and deserves a chance to play consistently.
Two more tough ones before the All-Star break. Long Island is first up on Monday afternoon. Go Flyers.