Game 68 Preview: Flyers vs. Sabres
John Tortorella's Philadelphia Flyers (25-31-11) are home on Friday evening to take on Don Granato's Buffalo Sabres (33-28-6) at the Wells Fargo Center. Game time is 7:00 p.m. EDT.
This is the second of three meetings this season between the teams, and the first of two in Philadelphia. On Jan. 9 in Buffalo, the Flyers skated to a 4-0 win. Now-former Flyer Zack MacEwen, Joel Farabee, Noah Cates and Wade Allison scored for Philly, while Samuel Ersson earned a 28-save shutout.
At present, the Flyers are 2-9-1 over their last 12 games. They enter this game having lost four games in a row in regulation. On Tuesday, the Flyers opened the current seven-game homestand with a 5-3 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. Travis Sanheim (5th), Nick Seeler (4th) and Morgan Frost (13th) scored for the Flyers in a losing cause.
Allison returned to practice on Thursday and appears ready to rejoin the lineup after missing each of the three previous games with an undisclosed injury. Per Tortorella, the Flyers will use a standard recall (leaving them with three for the remainder of the season) in order to keep Tyson Foerster on the NHL roster rather than reassigning him to the Phantoms. Conditions to keep him up on an emergency recall no longer apply.
Carter Hart, who missed Tuesday's game due to illness, practiced on Thursday. He's the projected starter against the Sabres.
Additionally, Tortorella continued to juggle line combinations for reasons other than injuries in the lineup. Since the All-Star break, the Flyers have rarely started (let alone finished) games with the same forward combinations they featured at the start of the previous game. For Friday's game, it appears that Kevin Hayes will center Owen Tippett and Joel Farabee. Frost will be James van Riemsdyk and Brendan Lemieux (a combination that the Flyers put together mid-game on Tuesday and which combined for Philly's third goal).
However, the Flyers do so much line juggling over the course of games, the combinations start out together have often been rendered irrelevant by midway through the second period. It's almost hard to recall now that the Flyers almost exclusively used the same four forward lines and same three defensive pairs for a five-week period from mid-December to late January.
Injuries have been major reason why line combos have so often been shuffled since the All-Star break. The other reason: very little has clicked. The Flyers are dead last offensively in the NHL since the start of February, averaging a meager 1.81 goals per game. Their power play since the break is actually a net negative, with three PPG scored against four shorthanded goals allowed. Meanwhile, the penalty kill has plummeted since the break, successfully navigating penalties at just 64.3 percent.
Yesterday's Friday Forecheck column
on PhiladelphiaFlyers.com looked, among other topics, at the keys for finding motivation for the rest of the schedule when the team is destined to miss the playoffs by a wide margin.
The Sabres haven't fared all much better since the Flyers last saw them. Heading into the Jan. 9 game, Buffalo was the NHL's highest-scoring team at the time and was pacing (if they could sustain it) to end an 11-season stretch of failing to qualify for the postseason. The team is now in significant jeopardy of making it 12 straight years.
Since the start of February, the Sabres have gone 7-9-2. The team is 3-5-2 over its last 10 games. Entering tonight's game in Philadelphia, the Sabres are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference wildcard race with 72 points in 67 games played. However, the Sabres hold 1-3 games in hand over every team they are chasing for one of the final two playoff spots. Buffalo figures to have a lot of urgency coming into Philadelphia for this game.
Dating back to the start of February, the Sabres rank tied for 12th in the NHL at 3.39 goals per game but have the NHL's worst goals against average at 4.33. Only the Flyers' PK has ranked below Buffalo's 67.4 percent in that span. The Sabres' power play, at an even 20 percent, ranks 16th in that span.
Buffalo held its own practice at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees on Thursday.
Potential lineups for Friday's game are listed below (subject to change). For a more in-depth preview of the game, see today's Five Things on PhiladelphiaFlyers.com, which will go live later this morning.
86 Joel Farabee - 13 Kevin Hayes - 52 Tyson Foerster
21 Scott Laughton - 49 Noah Cates - 74 Owen Tippett
25 James van Riemsdyk - 48 Morgan Frost - 22 Brendan Lemieux
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 58 Tanner Laczynski - 57 Wade Allison
9 Ivan Provorov - 45 Cam York
6 Travis Sanheim - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
24 Nick Seeler - 77 Tony DeAngelo
79 Carter Hart
32 Felix Sandström
PP1: Tippett, Cates, Foerster, Ristolainen (netfront), DeAngelo
PP2: Farabee, Frost, Hayes, JVR (netfront), York
53 Jeff Skinner - 72 Tage Thompson - 89 Alex Tuch
77 JJ Peterka - 24 Dylan Cozens - 22 Jack Quinn
12 Jordan Greenway - 17 Tyson Jost - 37 Casey Mittelstadt
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 19 Peyton Krebs - 21 Kyle Okposo
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 78 Jacob Bryson
25 Owen Power - 10 Henri Jokiharju
61 Riley Stillman - 46 Ilya Lyubushkin
1 Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen
41 Craig Anderson
PP1: Tuch, Cozens, Skinner, Thompson, Dahlin
PP2: Krebs, Mittelstadt, Quinn, Peterka, Power