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Preview: Can it get any worse?

The answer is yes, the hope is no.

Philadelphia Flyers v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

Tonight, the Flyers will face the Buffalo Sabres for the second time this week. Will the Orange & Black redeem themselves after an embarrassing showing on Monday, or will the Sabres finally snap their record-tying losing streak and give Philly’s season a new low? If you want the storylines, players to watch, start times, and tunes, read below.

The Flyers

It’s been a tumultuous two days for Philadelphia, with a number of headline worthy events. Easily the most notable occurrence is the successful waiving of Shayne Gostisbehere by the team after the near-loss on Monday to this same Sabres team. It seems that the Flyers were attempting to get another team to take on Gostisbehere’s contract in order to free up cap space, but ultimately all the team succeeded in doing was depriving themselves of capable defensemen even further.

The Flyers eked out a win over the sputtering Sabres in their last matchup, thanks to a three goal third period and an overtime winner by Ivan Provorov. Still, by all accounts, the team was outplayed for most of the game by a roster setting records for NHL futility. The results Alain Vigneault was seeing from his players was unacceptable, so he took drastic action to ensure a win by benching Oskar Lindblom, Joel Farabee and Nolan Patrick and giving heavy minutes to Claude Giroux and the rest of the crucial veterans.

Philadelphia Flyers v Buffalo Sabres
Joel Farabee didn’t play in the third period on Monday, despite his status as the team’s leading goal scorer and primary power play shooter.
Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

On top of everything, Vigneault had some controversial comments about Carter Hart in a recent media availability. When it comes to all of the above decisions by the coach, the motivations are multiple: AV is attempting to punish poor play, admonish those who are underperforming, and make sure that the elder statesmen on this team are taking ownership of the situation. As The Athletic’s Charlie O’Connor astutely pointed out on this week’s episode of Broad Street Hockey Radio, “Vigneault basically said before this game that it was going to be on the vets to make sure the team wasn’t overlooking their opponent” (paraphrasing here, but you get the idea).

The long-term evolutions of such a tactic are odious at best, but for now it worked and that’s what matters. Joel Farabee, Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom were, by the numbers, the three worst forwards on the ice last night. Even if some fans (myself included) feel that the benching of Farabee and Lindblom was mortifying based upon their season-long performance, it doesn’t particularly discredit AV’s reasoning.

As for the Hart comments, most would agree that while the sentiment wasn’t particularly awful, the execution was poor. The wording of the statement was vague enough to allow for national speculation surrounding Hart’s work ethic and practice habits, and Vigneault obviously is intentional enough with his wording in most situations to where assuming this was just a “foot in the mouth” occurrence is a bit naive. Hopefully the extended hiatus will give the young goalie some time to work on his issues and erase all of the narratives surrounding his disturbingly poor play.

With all of the narrative stuff out of the way, here are some important roster transactions to keep an eye on:

There’s a less-than-zero chance that we see Alex Lyon tonight, but in all likelihood Brian Elliott will get the start. Lyon has seen very little action this year, so the Flyers probably aren’t inclined to throw him to the wolves in a winnable game. As for the rest of those players, well... Connor Bunnaman has been a serviceable fourth liner for most of his time in the NHL, and Sam Morin hasn’t looked awful in a third pair role. I really hope both of them can maintain that level of play; Lord knows the Flyers could use a third pair guy who’s cheap and doesn’t stink.

All of this screams that tonight’s game could be even messier than Monday’s. The injection of relatively green NHL/AHL tweeners into the already reeling lineup will probably make for a sloppy start with plenty of turnovers. Look for the veterans as well as Joel Farabee and Oskar Lindblom to be called upon to step up their respective games.

The Sabres

This team has a complex at this point. They think they’re going to lose and are simply manifesting that belief every time they set foot on the ice. Buffalo hockey is an unsettling combination of comedy and misery the likes of which haven’t been seen since Dante’s Inferno; I’d say having to watch Rasmus Ristolainen chase guys for body checks while ignoring the puck is comparable on the Schmidt sting pain index to the bite of a bull ant.

Everything is in tatters in Sabresland. Rasmus Dahlin looks like a trainwreck, but if the train was soaked in nitroglycerin and headed off of a cliff. The roster is missing Jack Eichel, Taylor Hall is suffering from some truly awful shooting luck, and the only players who have clearly had a positive impact all year are Sam Reinhart and Dylan Cozens, the latter of whom suffered an injury on Monday. As the world burns down around the ears of head coach Ralph Krueger, all he can do is watch. This is the type of team that the Flyers are playing. All that is acceptable is a win, end of story.

Three Big Things

  1. Come out hot. The Flyers need to throttle Buffalo from the beginning, if only for the sake of our collective sanity. It’d be ideal to see Joel Farabee play with fire in response to Vigneault’s arguably unjustified benching from the last game. Expect the veterans to either come out playing like they mean business, or for the coaches to punish them if the alternative occurs.
  2. It feels like Philly is getting concerningly close to “you’re gonna break Brian Elliott permanently” threshold that we’ve seen Dave Hakstol run aground of in years past. Keep an eye on the Flyers’ netminder if he gets the start tonight. If it’s Alex Lyon between the pipes, that already answers questions about where Moose is at from a durability standpoint.
  3. It would seem that the coaching staff is finally fed up with Nolan Patrick’s lackluster play. While the much-maligned center has been better lately, he’s still not consistently putting forth an acceptable level of execution on a daily basis. The response to AV’s benching will be crucial in determining whether Patrick will regain the staff’s confidence, or if he’ll continue to piss it away.

Game Day Tunes

In all of this chaos, I think we need a bit of serenity. Please rise for the speedrunning national anthem, recently popularized by YouTuber Summoning Salt.

Happy game day, and as always, go Flyers.