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Sabres 5, Flyers 3: Expletives

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You have to be kidding.

Buffalo Sabres v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

The Flyers, fresh off of a crucial 3-2 victory against the Boston Bruins, would host the struggling Buffalo Sabres at the Wells Fargo Center. The last time the two teams met, the Sabres ended their seemingly endless winless streak in an embarrassing loss for the Flyers. Would the memories of that rueful defeat spark the Flyers to victory, or would the Sabres manage to dent the Flyers’ playoff hopes yet again?

With the puck officially dropped for some good ol’ fashioned Sunday afternoon hockey, we were set to find out.

First Period

Carter Hart was tested early on, less than twenty seconds into the game, on a shot from a wide open Casey Mittelstadt after he received a cross ice pass in the neutral zone. However, Hart was able to deny the young Sabre as he had a completely clear look at the shot. Meanwhile, the Flyers’ first real test of Linus Ullmark came off the stick of Scott Laughton as he muscled his way to the middle of the ice, however, he was also denied.

The Flyers held the shot advantage through the first five minutes of play, yet the flow of play was more even than the shot totals would have one believe. Almost on cue then, the Sabres would go to the power-play as Claude Giroux was called for tripping, but the Flyers would manage to kill it off as Carter Hart looked strong, and the duo of Scott Laughton and Kevin Hayes were able to waste a lot of time off the penalty by maintaining possession for the Flyers.

The Flyers’ improved forecheck was yet again back to work early on, as they forced turnovers in Buffalo’s zone. A particular turnover forced by Nolan Patrick resulted with the puck on Kevin Hayes’ stick for a wide open shot, but Ullmark stopped him as he matched Hart save-for-save.

After the mid-way point through the first period, the Flyers began to put more pressure on Buffalo, in particular on the rush. As they worked up the ice, Tanner Laczynski dropped the puck back to Nic Aube-Kubel, who found Shayne Gostisbehere wide open on the left-hand side of the ice as he pinched from his defensive position. Then, in a very strange play, Gostisbehere’s shot appeared to be kicked into the net by Linus Ullmark as he tried to make the save. However, on replay, it was clear that Oskar Lindblom deflected the puck into the net with his skate into the path of Ullmark who fumbled the puck into the net as it was behind him. Regardless, the Flyers would take a 1-0 lead!

Near immediately after, the Flyers would go to the power-play after the Sabres cleared the puck out of play in their own zone, and would be punished as the Flyers would take a 2-0 lead! Towards the end of the power-play, Sean Couturier had an open look from the right circle, but his shot was stopped. However, both Joel Farabee and Nolan Patrick were lurking around the crease. After a few rebound attempts, Farabee determinedly put the puck past a helpless Ullmark to score his first goal in ten games.

As the clock reached five minutes left in the period, the Flyers led the shot battle 13-4, and unlike before, these totals reflect the run of play harmoniously as the Flyers were able to quash any attempts the Sabres had to score. That is, however, until the Sabres would go to another power-play after Phil Myers was found guilty of holding Rasmus Ristolainen as he made a power-move on net. Of note was a moment in the ensuing play during the delayed penalty when Carter Hart made an impressive save on Kyle Okposo as the puck laid open for the former Islander to take a slapshot. The puck was absolutely wired on goal, and Hart made a nifty glove save.

The Flyers easily killed off the penalty, and then set to work in the Buffalo zone yet again, but were unable to make anything happen before the clock hit zero minutes and zero seconds. Taking a two goal lead into the second period, not many would be bothered by that.

The sentient blog agrees with me.

Second Period

The Flyers came out strong, establishing a cycle in Buffalo’s zone as soon as the puck dropped. However, after that, Buffalo found their feet and managed to get the game’s next five shots on goal before finally breaking through. Off a face-off, the Flyers fell asleep as Sam Reinhart found a loose puck, beating a sprawled out Carter Hart as there wasn’t much the young goaltender could do about it. Then, a minute later, on an odd man rush, Dylan Cozens worked the puck through to Arttu Ruotsalainen who scored his first NHL goal off a one-timer to tie the game at 2-2.

All of a sudden, the Sabres had turned the tables on this game and all the momentum was in Buffalo’s favor. Midway through the second period, what we had seen so far had been pure and simple fire-wagon hockey, with rushes up the ice common and little attention paid to defense. This style of play, combined with a bouncing puck, benefitted the Sabres as the Flyers floundered.

The Flyers would have to stabilize their efforts to ensure they don’t let momentum fall too heavily out of their favor, nor did they want to go down a goal to Buffalo. Fortunately the Flyers managed to create chances, though both Nic Aube-Kubel and Kevin Hayes had opportunities with open nets that they could not convert. Sean Couturier was also denied by a fantastic save on part of Linus Ullmark:

In the end, as the period dwindled down, they were able to do just that: stabilize things. Most of the chances towards the end of the period went to the Flyers as they were getting shots in on goal, especially from veterans such as Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, and Travis Konecny. However, they were unable to score, and the game would be tied heading into the third period.

It wasn’t the worst of periods, but the Flyers could have certainly been better.

Third Period

At the outset of the period, Joel Farabee had a number of chances as he attempted to score on a wrap around, but Linus Ullmark continued his strong play to deny him. Ullmark was simply excellent after the two Flyer goals in the first period, as evidenced by his save on Couturier earlier.

Despite having some good chances, the Flyers were not in charge to start the period as they faltered defensively. The Flyers failed to put pressure on any of the Buffalo defensemen, and at the point, just to name one example, Henri Jokiharju was able to walk in on Carter Hart and fire away, though his shot in that instance was blocked.

Oh, the Sabres are getting good chances you say? Well how about a Flyers goal!

After some good work along the wall from James van Riemsdyk to tie up a Buffalo skater, the puck would find Joel Farabee on the right hand side who slid a cross ice pass so Shayne Gostisbehere who scored off an accurate wrist shot glove side.

Soon after, however, the Flyers would take a bad penalty as Nic Aube-Kubel was called for hooking. Aube-Kubel would be bailed out, fortunately, as the Flyers remained at 100% in today’s game on the penalty-kill.

The Flyers nearly made it 4-2 as Joel Farabee was sent through alone on Ullmark by Joel Farabee, but the Sabres’ goaltender stayed with Farabee’s backhand move the entire way. More pressure was put on the Sabres’ skaters by the Flyers as they hassled them in their own zone. Overall, in the third period, the Flyers seemed to have more energy than they had in any other period, matching and even exceeding what they had showed in the first period.

Tempers began to flare as well as many Flyers took exception to Dylan Cozens taking liberties with Carter Hart smothering the puck. Joel Farabee, Travis Sanheim, and Robert Hagg were going after Sabres in the pile up, and even Hart himself was involved, causing Ullmark to skate up to the halfway line. No goalie fight was to be had, however, it was a refreshing sight to see the Flyers stick up for their goaltender.

After the dust up, the Flyers had a few very good chances but could not beat Ullmark and give themselves a much needed insurance goal, which really REALLY hurt them as the Sabres scored a dirty but good goal after the Flyers iced the puck to tie the game at three. Jeff Skinner drove towards the net, and the puck ended up taking a bounce off him, winding up behind Carter Hart.

Or did they?

Replays showed that Skinner kicked the puck into the net, but was pushed by Giroux. In any event, the goal was upheld by the officials.

Soon after then, in stunning fashion, the Sabres would take the lead as Carter Hart could not control a rebound and Rasmus Asplund roofed a backhand effort past the Flyer goaltender.

From then on, the Flyers had to try and mount a comeback to tie the game, but they simply could not do so as Casey Mittelstadt fired into the empty net.

Words escape me.

In a game the Flyers controlled for so long, they somehow find a way to lose, and they truly found a way to lose today. Not only did they bury themselves at the death here, but they let the worst team in the league bury them at the death. Even reading this recap, the sudden drop off from certain win to devastating loss tells the entire story.

Simply put, that’s been the Flyers’ season so far. Playoffs, we’ll miss you.

Three Big Answers

1. Carter Hart has to continue to assert himself as the de-facto future of the franchise in goal

Hart played well today, and looked like his usual self for most of the game as he stood strong to make good saves on many a Buffalo chance. The first three goals can’t really be blamed on Hart as the first was a fluke goal off a face-off and the second was the result of a defensive breakdown that left Hart completely exposed. For the third, Hart was partially taken out of the play after making contact with Claude Giroux, and you can argue that the puck was kicked into the net. The fourth goal, however, does not look good on Hart as his rebound control was simply absent.

Regardless, even from a simple observation, Hart looks far more confident than he did in earlier parts of the season when he was struggling, or at least before the collapse.

2. Joel Farabee needs to have a big game

Farabee played very well, scoring a goal, providing a crucial assist, and looking right in place on the top line with Sean Couturier and James van Riemsdyk. It’s good to see Farabee in the top six where he belongs, and belong he did! After not having scored in so long, getting a goal will hopefully do wonders for Farabee’s confidence.

3. Look for James van Riemsdyk to have a big outing

The man, who can also be referred to as James van Hockey, failed to register a single point in today’s game. However, that isn’t to say he played poorly. He functioned well as a member of the top line, and his efforts on the forecheck were not unnoticed by myself. He was a key reason Gostisbehere scored the Flyers’ third goal, as he created room for Phil Myers’ pass to Joel Farabee.

Three Stars

Truthfully, Joel Farabee and Shayne Gostisbehere played well. However, I choose today to give no stars to anybody. You simply cannot let a team as bad as the Buffalo Sabres win the game so late on so many breakdowns. This loss was absolutely unacceptable after playing so well for so long.