The Philadelphia Flyers are just so damn weird. After an abomination of an outdoor game at Lake Tahoe, filled with AHL role players and some embarrassment coming from the hands of the Boston Bruins, they gather their lineup together and look very, very good against the New York Rangers.
It was certainly a mix of key players like Claude Giroux making their return to the lineup and the Rangers being horrendous defensively, but with every single goal, this team is making us spin around, feeling like they’re a contender or a fraud.
Luckily for everyone that wants to see the Flyers do well, Jakub Voracek and Scott Laughton are making their way back into the lineup after their appearance on the NHL’s COVID protocol list.
Rather than having a half-baked bottom-six, head coach Alain Vigneault has two options for depth coming in and solidifying a forward group that has been rocky at times throughout this shortened season. Voracek and Laughton will be making their returns on the same line, according to the morning practice, along with fellow protocol list guest Oskar Lindblom.
AV jokes that the Lindblom-Laughton-Voracek line "is called my COVID line." Said that both Lindblom and Laughton want to play, and they'll be on the trip to Buffalo. Says Voracek never had any symptoms, said he felt real good on the ice today.— Charlie O'Connor (@charlieo_conn) February 26, 2021
The coach has some jokes, that can seem really heartless taken out of context, but I digress.
It is still uncertain whether Phillippe Myers will make an appearance against the Sabres, as he was practicing on the bottom pairing with Nate Prosser. Other than that the top-four shuffle continues their rotation of talent; trying to jam pieces into different roles and see if they can make a stable blue line.
With the start of a back-to-back in the lovely city of Buffalo, Brian Elliott will be starting between the pipes on Saturday, while Carter Hart will get the start on Sunday.
As for the team the Flyers are going to (maybe) beat up on, the Sabres are in their own wild world of shit. After coming back from a lengthy break due to COVID complications — including defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen still out (with horrific details) — Buffalo has been straight-up terrible.
In the seven games since they’ve returned, they have earned four points, exclusively coming against the New Jersey Devils. Compiling a terrible record with Jack Eichel trade rumors and Jeff Skinner healthy scratches, Buffalo is a dramatic city.
While the Flyers are in their own turmoil of terrible underlying numbers and percentages going their way every single game, the Sabres are a complete mess and should be kicked while they’re down.
Two Big Questions
1. How will Voracek and Laughton look in their return?
I feel like this is a question asked so often this season, but as players make their way back into the lineup because of unfortunate circumstances, we all ponder.
While Voracek is getting up there in age, his ability to produce some stellar point totals has not gone away. With 3 goals and 9 assists in just 13 games this season, the 31-year-old winger is contributing more than enough for the amount of ice-time he’s been given. His 16:34 ATOI is his lowest since the 2011-12 regular season, marking a steep increase in the amount of top-six forward talent — like Joel Farabee for example — the Flyers have accrued since Voracek’s entrance into Philadelphia.
On the other side, young Laughton has had an insane increase in his production while being awarded more of a role within this team. Still the dependable defensive center that we have all grown to live, it will be interesting to see him goof around with the Sabres pile of bodies they put out on the ice.
2. Can elderly Brian Elliott continue this run of success?
While Carter Hart has certainly had his ups and downs this season, Elliott has been able become a stable force for the Flyers to play in front of. With a save percentage to the tune of .922 and one of the league’s top goals saved above expected, Big Brian has come to the rescue for a lot of the Flyers’ poor defensive showings.
For his age, Elliott has been someone to rely on and the big question is wondering if he can keep it up today against the Sabres.
Flyers Projected Lines
Check out a brief pregame rundown of the Sabres ahead of today’s game in audio form, if you’re into that kind of thing: