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Preview: Mercy killing

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The Sabres are so awful that anything besides a win will be unacceptable.

Buffalo Sabres v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The Flyers are playing another hockey game today as the painful month of March draws to a close. Who should you be watching, what are the storylines, and how can the team get a win tonight? All that below.

The Flyers

The past month hasn’t been kind to the Flyers, who be all accounts aren’t considered legit playoff contenders anymore. Luckily, the team has gotten a break for the first time in a while, giving them a few days to rest, ruminate and review. Carter Hart will likely be the biggest beneficiary from this bit of rest; it might allow him to calm down, evaluate the flaws in his game and adjust. Lord knows this group needs him to turn it around.

Philly still hasn’t played a legitimately “great process” game since March 18th against the Islanders. Even then, the Orange & Black conceded three unanswered goals in the third before barely eluding overtime. Not exactly a stretch that inspires confidence, but given the opponent the Flyers are facing tonight, a dominant win should be the expectation, not the hope.

A problem for the team recently has been shot quality. While early in the year the Flyers weren’t shooting enough compared to previous seasons, nearly every shot they took was from a high-danger area, giving them an inflated shooting percentage. Now, the reverse is happening, with Philadelphia regressing to around league average in all the stats I just mentioned. Getting to the slot against a pathetic Sabres team still won’t be a cakewalk (it’s the NHL, after all), but if the Flyers can’t attack the home plate area with success tonight, it’s safe to assume they’ll need more adjustments in practice to fix the problem.

The Sabres

This team stinks, and there’s not much else to say. Buffalo has recorded the NHL’s longest losing streak, cementing themselves as one of the worst teams of all time. What’s funny is that this roster might be legitimately worse from a performance perspective than the 2014-2015 team that actively attempted to be the worst roster in NHL history. The Sabres aren’t really above replacement in any one thing, especially without Jack Eichel in the lineup. Rasmus Dahlin is careening towards being a massive bust unless someone stabilizes his career, and not even the promising Dylan Cozens has been enough to buoy a team that’s the hockey equivalent of “guy jumps out of a plane with a backpack instead of a parachute.”

Buffalo will probably have Linus Ullmark back in goal, so the Sabres will at least get a boost in net. Ullmark has been the best netminder for the team by far this year, so the Flyers will have a bit more work to do in order to come away with a victory. Still, anything less than two points against the Sabres ought to be considered a disappointment, especially after a few days off.

Three Big Things

  1. Big Sam Morin looked like an NHL player in his first two starts of the season. Can he keep that up over a longer period? It’s been a long road for the big defender after multiple knee injuries and even a move to the wing for a brief time, but he’s finally getting a shot in The Show. Hopefully he can be an effective third pairing defender that plays a simple, complimentary game like he’s shown in this stint.
  2. I expect dominance by the forward group tonight. The last time the Flyers played Buffalo, the game was considerably closer than expected because of poor goaltending. Even if Brian Elliott doesn’t have his A-game, I need to see the forwards producing and generally tilting the ice. I’ll be keying in on guys who haven’t been as productive or impactful over the course of the season, like Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Nolan Patrick, in particular.
  3. Speaking of Patrick, he’s another guy who seems to be trending the right way, even as everything else goes to shit. Can he continue to improve his pace, engagement and production like he has been?

Game Day Tunes

It’s a PUP kind of day, folks. Note that this isn’t a clean song, so don’t play it around people you don’t want hearing profanity.

Happy game day, and as always, go Flyers.