Spying on the Saboteur: Flyers and Sabres clash again

Following their first loss of the season, the Philadelphia Flyers hope to redeem themselves in another clash against the Buffalo Sabres tonight.

Through two games, the Flyers were scoring a handful of goals per game. Their loss isn’t a “settle back down to earth,” but it’s a sobering check. The Buffalo Sabres lost two straight games to the Washington Capitals before entering the Wells Fargo Center last night. When they left the Wells Fargo Center, they picked up their first victory as Philadelphia fell into the trap.

For three periods, the Sabres continued to apply pressure on the Flyers. In every aspect of hockey, Buffalo performed better than Philadelphia. Carter Hart didn’t make it half way through regulation. Everyone loses in the NHL; that’s not the issue. Alain Vigneault was “embarrassed” by the team’s performance.

Tonight, the Flyers have a shot at redemption. In game two of a back-to-back, Philadelphia has to correct their errors. The effort last night from the team seemed non-existent. If the Flyers wish to even the score versus the Sabres, they need to show up; every single line in every facet of the team.

Buffalo Sabres – Forward Spotlight

Last time, I spoke about how Taylor Hall could be a curse to Buffalo. Last night, Hall proved that to be untrue. He chose to play on the Sabres because of the talented youth on the roster. Every ounce of that was on display last night, especially his chemistry with Jack Eichel.

Eichel, like Hall, had three assists. The tandem paired together any time either notched a point. They were responsible for the assists on both of Sam Reinhart’s goals and Victor Olofsson’s goal. Both forwards gave Buffalo’s powerplay a boost, converting opportunities on Hart and Brian Elliott.

Buffalo Sabres – Defensive Spotlight

Last night, Rasmus Dahlin impressed. He wasn’t responsible for a point on the scoreboard. Instead, Dahlin let his defensive performance speak for itself. Dahlin finished with a plus-one rating in the Sabres victory.

Dahlin successfully gave Philadelphia a headache. He was the subject of poor discipline by the Flyers. After Nicolas Aube-Kubel provided the only highlight for Philadelphia, he immediately followed with a high-sticking double-minor. On the penalty, Aube-Kubel seemed to punch Dahlin. Following that penalty, Olofsson scored a powerplay goal.

Buffalo Sabres – Goaltender Spotlight

Previously, I mentioned that Linus Ullmark could be the starting goaltender for last night’s game. That prediction’s based on the performance between him and Carter Hutton versus the Capitals. Hutton started last night, however. He proved to be the better Carter during the first meeting between the two franchises in the 2020-2021 season.

It would be surprising if Hutton didn’t receive the start tonight. After a near shutout of the Flyers last night, he’s the right selection for game two. Complimenting Hutton’s performance, the Sabres defense was extraordinary. Hutton saved 95.5% of the shots he faced. Obtaining the first win of the season for Buffalo, Hutton has the undisputed hot hand.

Flyers Keys to Victory

No team in the NHL will win if they cannot enter the offensive zone. It seemed through three periods that Philadelphia lived in the defensive zone. The Flyers were called for an obscene amount of icing calls, offering a great starting position for the Sabres. Without Sean Couturier, Philadelphia doesn’t have their faceoff specialist. They cannot afford to take most faceoffs in the defensive zone.

If the Flyers weren’t surviving in the defensive zone, they were losing in the neutral zone too. In all likelihood, Buffalo should have scored more than six goals last night. Erik Gustafsson turned the puck over upon entering the neutral zone too often. For as bad a night Hart had in the net, he bailed Philadelphia out of many odd-man rushes from the Sabres. The Flyers need to be able to transition the puck into the offensive zone.

On a positive note, Morgan Frost did not show poor performance. He began the night at the 1C but did switch with Kevin Hayes to the second line. Vigneault was attempting to find a balance between the loss and preparation for tonight. In swapping, he hoped to find an attack that worked. The best line for Philadelphia was their fourth line (Michael Raffl, Scott Laughton, and Aube-Kubel.)

Flyers vs Sabres Prediction

As much as I would love to say that the Flyers respond with a win, they need to play with a pulse first. Buffalo seemed to be the only alive team on the ice in just about every minute last night. Vigneault has a solid track record in making adjustments and responding to losses, however. I’m taking the Sabres tonight, 4-2. I’ll always wish to be proven wrong when predicting a win by the opposition, but an unbiased take is the right one.

Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre

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