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Preview: Didn’t I beat you up yesterday?

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If the Sabres are up for another beating, far be it for the Flyers to deny them.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Buffalo Sabres Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Flyers are set to play the second half of this weekend’s doubleheader against the Sabres today, and it’s certainly something to look forward to given yesterday’s performance. Philly comes into the game off a pair of strong wins against New York teams (4-3 against the Rangers, 3-0 against Buffalo) with plenty of momentum.

Who are the players to watch, what should fans be hoping to see from the team, and what’s the BSH pregame jam of choice for today? Find out below.

The Flyers

Philly comes into this game 3-1-1 in their last five, with the brutal loss at Lake Tahoe punctuating a simple idea: this team is better than everyone in the East than the Bruins. The Flyers have played particularly well in their last two games, albeit against inferior competition. After consistently losing the shot attempts and expected goals battles all year, even against worse rosters like Buffalo, the team seems to finally be turning things around and executing with a good process.

The return of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voráček and other key forwards will help a great deal in this team’s pursuit of the divisional crown, especially if the players coming off the COVID list continue to perform like what we’ve seen lately. Lindblom and Braun in particular looked they best they have all year after returning from exposure-induced absences, which makes absolutely no sense given the circumstances.

The Flyers continue to rely on executing a tenacious forecheck against teams to win games, but against a weaker roster like Buffalo (especially Buffalo without Eichel) Philly can rely upon superior skill to take over games. The Flyers were able to roll four lines effectively in yesterday’s game and will likely continue doing so to take advantage of the depth gap between the teams.

Nolan Patrick is a player to keep an eye on; while the young forward hasn’t been shooting the puck a lot (8th among Flyers forwards in shot attempts), he’s looked notably faster and stronger in recent contests. If Lindblom and Patrick manage to get their legs under them, this forward group goes from “pretty talented” to terrifying pretty quickly.

In net, we’ll see the return of Carter Hart, who has hopefully spent his time off working on tweaking his technique. Hart has struggled early this year in certain games, but his numbers aren’t reason for long-term concern. He’s a player who has dominated at every level by adjusting his approach to the game and fixing the flaws that others have taken advantage of. It’s important to keep in mind that he’s still incredibly young by both standard prospect and goalie prospect standards while also understanding that development isn’t linear. Look for visible improvement from him over the next five starts, and if you don’t see it, try not to worry too much.

The Sabres

This team is a mess with Eichel, much less without him. As Steve Coates so astutely pointed out on the radio yesterday, the Sabres looked like a team who don’t want to be at the rink throughout the game. The process-driven promise of the team has taken a blow via the losses of Eichel and Jake McCabe to injury, and Ralph Krueger’s repeated benchings of Jeff Skinner aren’t helping anything.

The Sabres folded against a pace-driven Flyers transition game yesterday, particularly struggling against controlled entries and bank passes. Buffalo struggled in defending entries and lacks the talent and depth to contend with all four lines that Philadelphia can roll, so look for their forwards to be more aggressive in the neutral zone while the defenders attempt to deny entries with stickwork at the blue line.

Leading the Sabres through this difficult stretch is the still-young Sam Reinhart, who’s had a strong stretch of production despite his lackluster play-driving stats. The 25-year-old forward has paced Buffalo with 14 points in 16 games, tied with Jack Eichel for second on the team (behind Victor Olofsson). Another name to watch is rookie Dylan Cozens, who brings speed and remarkable intelligence to a lineup lacking quite a bit of both. Despite being played mostly along the wing and away from his natural position of center, the Lethbridge product has posted respectable analytical results and continues to flash the promise that made him the 7th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.

Image via Evolving-Hockey.com

In goal for Buffalo will likely be rookie Jonas Johansson, who’s struggled in the single game he’s played in relief. Johansson hasn’t made a start this year and had a rather inauspicious start to his NHL career (2.94 GAA, .894 SV% in six appearances in 2019-2020), but he’s had a solid track record in the AHL and shouldn’t be underestimated.

Three Big Things

  1. What does Carter Hart look like? While the young goalie has obviously struggled across the board this year, his numbers against teams other than the Boston Bruins have been quite solid. Does Hart return with a solid rebound, or will he struggle yet again and head back to the drawing board on how to settle his game?
  2. Do the Flyers continue to play at a faster pace and dominate the neutral zone? Buffalo isn’t a particularly good team, but they aren’t exactly league-worst either; in spite of this, the Flyers made them look essentially helpless when it came to stopping them in the middle of the ice. Philly has had two straight games where the team’s passing has been dynamite, allowing them to play the rush at a breakneck pace. Can they keep it up?
  3. How good will Phil Myers be in his return, if he gets the opportunity? After getting a healthy scratch in yesterday’s game (probably for his lackluster performance against the Rangers), the young defender will likely have a chance to redeem himself today. While clearly one of the team’s four best defenders, Myers has some adjusting to do before he’s truly ascertained himself as a legit top-four defenseman who would play crucial minutes on any team in the league. The talent is clearly there; will the player acclimate? If Vigneault healthy scratches him again, what does that mean? All interesting things to focus on.

Gameday Tunes

As always, I’m feeling very pop-punk. Let’s treat ourselves to a Philadelphia staple and jam out to some of The Wonder Years before the game. Have a little rager in your humble abode. This song slaps.

Have a great gameday everybody. Let’s hope they get a win. As always, go Flyers.