Flyers-Sabres Recap and Observations

Well it wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t ugly but it wasn’t pretty, at least that’s what it looked like from the perspective of a Flyers or Sabres fan. The only difference being the Sabres fan sees his/her team skate off the ice with the extra point, leaving the Flyers and their fans with the black jelly beans at the bottom of the jar in the form of an overtime loss. For the neutral viewer, however, it was a fairly entertaining contest that had just about everything you could look for in a hockey game. There were times in the game when the Sabres dominated the play, there were moments that the Flyers looked like it was their turn to explode. There was good physical play from both sides and even the goalies traded moments of brilliance with moments of flaccid disappointment.

Once again though, the tale of the tape for the Flyers was their inability to string together a full 60 minute effort, a problem that ravaged the team last season. This game was a difficult one to gauge for the Flyers. Tonight they looked like a team still learning a new system, which is understandable given that they are only 8 games into the coaching career of Dave Hakstol. At times they looked like last season’s 7th worst team, slipping into old habits by chasing the puck and pressing play, failing to clear their zone, blue line turnovers, losing puck battles, etc. In other moments, the breakout was seamless, the passing crisp, and the scoring chances were coming in waves.

This game was also difficult to gauge because of the opposition they faced. There were moments in this game where last year’s Flyers who were so poor against inferior opposition were showing themselves. But at the same time one has to consider that this Buffalo team, while not among the league’s elite by any stretch (yet), is hardly the same Sabres team we saw last season. This Sabres team is a far more talented team than last year’s side but also, and more importantly, a far more organized and disciplined side than the one from last year.

In the first period, the Flyers played catch-up, both on the scoreboard and on the ice. The Sabres jumped on them from the get-go. Their youth and ridiculous speed caught the Flyers way off guard. It took just over 10 minutes for Buffalo to grab a 2-0 lead and were a distinct kicking motion away from a back-breaking 3-0 lead. The Sabres dominated most of the 1st frame. Their puck movement, speed, and hunger in the corners, as well as a few failed clears and blue line turnovers courtesy of Luke Schenn led to chance upon chance for Buffalo. Although, I cannot lay any blame on anyone for the first goal. Tyler Ennis just willed the puck into the net with a sublime display of individual effort and skill. There really wasn’t much anyone could have done there.

It wasn’t until Chris Vandevelde tallied at 14:20, shortly after Buffalo’s disallowed 3rd goal, that the Flyers finally got their legs under them. Vandevelde received a great cross ice pass in the neutral zone and entered the Sabres zone with speed and space enough to deliver a dart of a wrist shot low to the far post. While certainly one Sabres goalie Chad Ochocinco Johnson would like to have back, it was still a very good shot from Vandevelde and it proved to be the break the Flyers needed to get their game under them.

The second period came and the Flyers kept their momentum going. After killing off an early penalty, they spent most of the period in Buffalo’s end. The Flyers had a few powerplays through the first two frames, and Jake Voracek just cannot buy himself a goal. Not much has changed with the Flyers powerplay in the past few years though. The first unit still generates the lion’s share of opportunities, while the second unit consistently fails to get themselves set up and established in the offensive zone, with their only “opportunities” coming off the rush in the form of one shot at a time before surrendering possession and having the opposition send the puck the length of the ice once more, like clockwork.

The Flyers also squandered an absolutely golden opportunity when the puck found itself on Michael Raffl’s stick while Ochocinco found himself still on the team bus or something because he certainly wasn’t anywhere near the net. Somehow, Raffl, whose shot was off target but bounced around all over the crease and threatened to find a way in, was miraculously kept out by Johnson even as both Voracek and Giroux jack-hammered away at the loose puck. Again, as was the case last year, the Flyers’ inability to finish would prove to cost them dearly in the end.

By the 3rd period the contest balanced itself out and both teams had their share of opportunities. The Flyers spent long spells hemmed into their own zone but also created opportunities when they got out of the zone. Eventually, down 2-1, Scott Laughton made something happen. The former Oshawa General was shot out of a cannon down the left wing and was able to feather a Datsyukian pass from the corner to a streaking Brayden Schenn at the far post and suddenly there was life, there was hope. The score was 2-2…..for 84 seconds. Buffalo came right back and a seeing eye shot from the point found its way through a mass of bodies roughly totaling the population of lower Manhattan and into the net behind Mason. All was not lost though as the Flyers fought and clawed their way back until the end. Finally with 53 seconds to play in the 3rd period, a harmless little wrister through traffic from Giroux  found a piece of Brayden Schenn’s stick and got in behind Chad Johnson and suddenly the Flyers had forced overtime.

The 3 on 3 frame began and was as electrifying as ever. Jack Eichel finally showed himself as he just straight up overpowered and outskilled Michael Del Zotto and managed to unleash a dangerous low shot that Mason was alert to turn aside. Going the other way, Chad Johnson stole the game for the Sabres with a save that I still can’t believe happened. Sam Gagner came in on Johnson on a mini breakaway which Johnson stopped. That save however, created a juicy rebound for Scott Laughton that somehow didn’t end up in the net as Johnson Superman’d his way across the goal mouth and snatched victory away from the Flyers with the inside of his blocker hand. Shortly after that happened, Girgensons found himself behind the Flyers’ defense and coolly finished the game by snapping a quick shot through Mason’s 5-hole. Final score Buffalo 4-3 Philadelphia (OT).

The Flyers are in action again on Thursday night at 7PM at the Wells Fargo Center, where they will take on the New Jersey Devils. Make sure to catch it on CSN Philly.

 

Photo:Tom Mihalek/AP

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