Spying on the Saboteur: Philadelphia Flyers at Buffalo Sabres

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Following an ugly victory against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday, the Philadelphia Flyers have a lot to prove tonight.

In the NHL, there isn’t any such thing as a guaranteed victory. While the Philadelphia Flyers were heavily favored when they visited the Buffalo Sabres on Monday, complacency reared its face through the first two periods. The Sabres, who haven’t won since February 23rd versus the New Jersey Devils, took a 3-0 lead. Alain Vigneault left it up to his locker room to right all the wrongs. The Flyers did, winning 4-3 in overtime.

Since then, the mood has changed. It was an ugly victory, one that followed with Shayne Gostisbehere placed on and clearing waivers. Speculation picked up about Chuck Fletcher making an acquisition. It hasn’t happened, but the lineup tonight may change.

Still three points out of a playoff spot, Philadelphia needs to keep their current win streak alive. Against the worst team in the Mass Mutual Eastern Division, they can do so. The Flyers cannot afford to start their contest in Buffalo tonight the way they did on Monday.

Before the puck drops tonight, let’s take a look at the opposition:

Buffalo Sabres – Forward Spotlight

Finishing with a minus-two rating on Monday, Victor Olofsson played better than his stat sheet shows. In 12:30 of ice time, he took six shots on goal. Brian Elliott started to find a groove late in the game, stopping all of Olofsson’s efforts. Riley Sheahan tallied an assist on a goal by Cody Eakin early in the second period. The bottom-six did the most damage on Monday against Philadelphia.

Vigneault shortened the bench, removing the majority of his third-line. His decision enabled a comeback from his forwards with an improved forecheck. Joel Farabee and Nolan Patrick were outliers in a devalued performance, getting beaten in transition.

Buffalo Sabres – Defensemen Spotlight

Though Rasmus Dahlin didn’t appear on the stat sheet and finished with a minus-one rating, he finished with a strong effort among Buffalo’s defense. Towards the end of the first period, his work enabled Henri Jokiharju to score. Again, the third-line helped put the Flyers behind, 1-0. Later, Brandon Montour was able to light the lamp in the middle stages of the second period.

Philadelphia played soft defense, allowing the Sabres to stack the slot with shots on Elliott. Facing that offensive pressure cannot be tolerated.

Lately, Samuel Morin is a breath of fresh air. His physical play along the boards, without question, helps the Flyers. The question becomes, with Gostisbehere clearing waivers, who will play alongside Morin?

Gostisbehere played well before he cleared waivers. He, with Morin, represented the best defensive pairing for Philadelphia on Monday. Tonight, it would make sense to realign him in the same pairing, pending on how that changes his waiver-clearing status.

Buffalo Sabres – Goaltender Spotlight

The only Buffalo goaltender to experience a victory against the Flyers this season is Carter Hutton. We would have to turn the clock back to January 18th, 2021, when the Sabres won, 6-1, to locate that victory.

Tonight, Linus Ullmark could see another start. If not, expect Dustin Tokarski. Ullmark has yet to have a bad start this season with more games on his record. Tokarski, who is 0-3, has an overall 89% save percentage.

Carter Hart remains out of the lineup, working on his game, according to Vigneault. Elliott will likely start again, but Alex Lyon is an option. Lyon has not played an NHL game this season. In another must-win game for Philadelphia, Elliott makes the most sense.

Flyers vs Sabres prediction

While Monday was ugly, the Flyers found a way to win. In sports, pretty wins don’t carry more points in the standings. We all expect Buffalo to play harder, knowing they lost a very winnable game. Philadelphia feels the same, knowing they survived against a bottom-tier hockey franchise in 2020-2021.

Flyers 4, Sabres 2

Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre