We’re finally back! After a brief hiatus following an exhilarating yet frustrating game vs. Tampa Bay on Saturday, the Flyers return to take on the upstart Sabres, lead by former second overall pick Jack Eichel. Philadelphia comes into this game just three points behind the Washington Capitals for third place in the division, and six points out of the division lead. Meanwhile, Buffalo has come on strong this season, utilizing the likes of Eichel, former Sabre now current Sabre Jason Pominville, and newly acquired Jeff Skinner. The Sabres are just two points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs — who the Flyers play this Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada — for the top spot in the Atlantic Division.
After a three game winning streak by the Flyers, they’ve since gone on a three game losing streak, or what we know as “exactly what you point to when describing this hockey team over the past five years.” Despite this losing streak, the Flyers have not played all that poorly during it, but at the end of the day results are what matters. Not showing up for a full 60 minutes has been killing this team especially of late, and it certainly will tonight against the young speedy talent that Buffalo possesses.
Despite all of that young talent and high skill offensive players, including first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin, the Sabres are around the bottom of the league in generating high quality chances. Buffalo is 22nd in the NHL in high danger chances-for, and 27th in scoring chances-for. This is due large in part to a seemingly bland brand of hockey that Buffalo employs.
Keep Buffalo to the outside
This really shouldn’t be the most difficult task in the world, considering it appears Buffalo does this on their own for the most part. The Flyers defense as of late has done a fantastic job at keeping teams away from the high danger areas, even doing a solid job vs. Tampa on Saturday. Buffalo’s tendencies to fire point shots on net needs to be something Dave Hakstol focuses on in tonight’s game. Get the wingers on the two defensemen and make their lives miserable, especially considering how shaky their defense can be.
The Sabres have a lot of potential on the blue line, but a lot of room for improvement. Rasmus Ristolainen is posting solid point numbers, but his underlying numbers leave a bit to be desired. Dahlin of course has superstar potential, but it’s still his first NHL season. They’re a young defense, and if the Flyers apply pressure on them at the point which should be many times tonight judging on how often they’ll have the puck, Philadelphia should be able to control this game.
Attack the high danger areas, they should be open
Buffalo not only doesn’t seem to attack the high danger areas, but they give up those areas on the defensive side as well. They’re performing well based on raw scoring chances-against, and high danger chances-against, however listed as a +2% threat on Micah Blake McCurdy’s HockeyViz.
The Flyers meanwhile, are at a -8% threat on the defensive side. Defensively, in the negatives is where teams want to be. Over the past couple of weeks, the orange and black have done an excellent job of getting to the high danger areas, and getting high quality scoring opportunities. They’ll need to do the same tonight against a highly skilled Buffalo forward core.
All about the finish
Buffalo’s goaltending this year has been a major reason for the team’s early success, with the duo of Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark both posting save percentages above a .915. The Flyers goaltending on the other hand? Well it’s not that good to put it lightly. Calvin Pickard has struggled, and Alex Lyon has yet to see any game action although that may change tonight. Buffalo is 13th in the NHL in 5-on-5 shooting percentage, while the Flyers sit sixth in the league. Their PDO’s are relatively the same, with the Flyers at 1.006 and the Sabres at 1.008, the goaltending giving Buffalo the upper hand.
There should be no concern of generating the high quality chances tonight, but the key will be finishing on those opportunities when they arise. The Flyers goaltending is probably not going to be good enough to get into a low-scoring affair, so the offense will need to be on their “A” game. Since I just said that though, watch the Flyers win 2-1 tonight just to spite me.
The return of Jorald
It appears as though Jori Lehtera may see a return to the lineup tonight, as reported yesterday by The Athletic’s Charlie O’Connor, he was taking rushes with Scott Laughton and Dale Weise in practice. This would substitute Nicolas Aube-Kubel out of the lineup. NAK has solid underlying numbers with a 55.26 raw CF, but has yet to score a goal or even register his first NHL point in his first nine NHL games. It is a bit frustrating that NAK could be getting “Hak’d”, but it’s not the most surprising scratch in the world.
Flyers Projected Lineup
Giroux — Couturier — Konecny
Lindblom — Patrick — Voracek
van Riemsdyk — Weal — Simmonds
Laughton — Lehtera — Weise
Provorov — Hagg
Gostisbehere — Folin
MacDonald — Sanheim