Spying on the Saboteur: Philadelphia Flyers vs Buffalo Sabres

Following two wide-margin victories against the Penguins, the Philadelphia Flyers host the Buffalo Sabres, hoping to continue the hot streak.

Carter Hart and the Philadelphia Flyers are off to a perfect start in 2020-2021 at the Wells Fargo Center. Tonight, they’ll hope to build off their sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Buffalo Sabres visit Philadelphia in the first meeting between the two teams this season. One is atop the MassMutual Division, while the other is the butt of the joke. The Flyers need to do everything in their power to ensure this series doesn’t become a trap.

Flyers look to their next man up

Reigning Frank J. Selke Trophy winner, Sean Couturier, will miss at least two weeks with a rib injury. He only played two shifts in Philadelphia’s 5-2 victory against the Penguins. When Couturier first arrived on the bench, it seemed he aggravated his shoulder when Jared McCann hit him into the boards. It’s all about a “next man up” mentality for the Flyers. How will Alain Vigneault flip the lineup in relief of Couturier?

Philadelphia looks to Morgan Frost. During training camp, Frost received extra focus in his development. A center, trained to crossover as a left-wing, Vigneault planned on Frost earning valuable minutes this season from the taxi squad. He’ll play in his natural position, but will he be featured as a 3C or 4C? The center Frost replaces will likely be moved to the first line with Travis Konecny and Oskar Lindblom.

TK is red hot

Speaking of Konecny, he’s riding momentum after notching the first hat-trick of his career. He leads the Flyers, who have scored eleven goals in two games against Pittsburgh, in points. Perhaps that wasn’t the most noteworthy event featuring Konecny on Friday. Following the victory, he sat next to Jakub Voracek as he verbally ruptured Mike Sielski of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Voracek has two assists on the season, featuring the first of Konecny’s hat trick.

A new rivalry?

It is the first season where the Flyers and Sabres are inter-division rivals. In two games, we saw tempers begin to flare between Philadelphia and the Penguins. It will not take much for an all-out war to break out between the participants in the MassMutual Division. Buffalo has been a struggling team, but they have everything to gain. The MassMutual Division will make the Sabres a better team due to the competition offered.

Buffalo Sabres – Forward Spotlight

For better or worse, Taylor Hall belongs in this player spotlight. Of course, the superstar in Buffalo is Jack Eichel. The reason why we focus on Hall has to do with his value to the Sabres. Did the addition of Hall make Buffalo a better team? History says the former Hart Memorial Trophy winner is a bit of a curse.

Remember when Hall was on another MassMutual Division team? Formerly, he spent time with the New Jersey Devils. Before Hall was traded by the Devils, they were on pace for a 24 win season. After New Jersey cut Hall loose, they nearly had a winning record and were on pace to win 41 games. The Arizona Coyotes had a winning record before Hall joined the team, but after Hall joined, they only accumulated thirteen more wins.

Chemistry is a tricky but vital part of a successful hockey team. One season ago, the Sabres first ten games touted an 8-1-1 record. Already, Buffalo has suffered two regulation losses in as many games. Hall hasn’t played poorly, accumulating three points (1G, 2A) in two games. It’s that the Sabres haven’t begun winning.

Buffalo Sabres – Defense Spotlight

Recently, Buffalo lost a close game against the Washington Capitals. Rasmus Ristolainen is the blue line specialist on the second powerplay unit. Unfortunately, the Sabres were 0-5 on the man-up advantage versus the Capitals on Friday.

During the opening minute of the third period versus Washington on Friday, Ristolainen notched his first goal this season. His wrist shot from the blue line deflected off of Tom Wilson and past Vitek Vanecek. Coincidentally, Hall had an assist on that scoring play.

Buffalo plays its best hockey when Ristolainen is on the ice. He has the capability of creating offense while anchoring the defense. Ristolainen was the best defenseman on the ice during the Sabres last contest. If Buffalo is to slow down the Flyers, especially with Couturier out of the lineup, they’ll need Ristolainen to continue his performance.

Buffalo Sabres – Goaltender Spotlight

Though Carter Hutton received the first start of the season, Linus Ullmark played decisively better. Ullmark saved 19 of 21 shots on goal, equal to a 90.5% save percentage. Comparably, Hutton saved 22 of 27 shots faced, translating to an 81.5% save percentage. Neither goaltender has a victory in the early stages of 2020-2021, but Ullmark may get another opportunity versus Philadelphia.

Do not be surprised if Ralph Krueger elects to give Ullmark the start. Buffalo is a team without a definitive starting goaltender. At the moment, Hutton hasn’t provided a quality start. Ullmark has, which makes him the hot hand.

In the last game Ullmark started against the Flyers, Dale Weise scored a goal. Philadelphia won, 6-2, back on December 8th, 2018. In his career, Ullmark is winless against a Vigneault coached team. If Ullmark gets the start, it will be his first against Vigneault’s Flyers.

Keys To A Flyers Victory

Philadelphia must continue to add to the momentum they already have. Their hot start has been ideal, especially with two victories against a rival such as Pittsburgh. Game three is no time to play down to an opponent. The powerplay has been electric in the first two games for the Flyers, but the penalty-kill needs to rebound. Look for that to happen against a Sabres powerplay that is trying to find their footing.

Adding Frost into the mix means he has a chance to open the eyes of his teammates and coaching staff. With the quality of depth that Philadelphia offers, anyone is capable of creating a scoring play at any moment. On the third or fourth line, Frost expects to generate scoring opportunities. Due to Couturier’s injury, the Flyers will see how potent Nolan Patrick and Scott Laughton are with increased playing minutes.

Limiting transition rushes is a task that Philadelphia’s defense needs to address. Eichel and Hall have every opportunity to become a nightmare if the Flyers play, as they did, during the second period versus the Penguins on Friday. Buffalo’s second line is debatably more dangerous than their top line. Pressure will be on Philadelphia’s top two defensive pairings. Thus far, Justin Braun has performed well-enough with Ivan Provorov, but the focus will be on Travis Sanheim.

Flyers vs Sabres Prediction

The Flyers have scored eleven goals in two games, while the Sabres have surrendered eight in two games. At the moment, the over/under for tonight’s game lands at six goals. Taking the under could make sense, but a gambling man would be better off leaving this one alone. Philadelphia will likely score at least a few goals in this game, more than Buffalo. A prediction of 3-2, in favor of the Flyers, seems logical.

Photo Credit: Alex Mcintyre

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