The Buffalo Sabres will host an Eastern Conference rival tonight in the Philadelphia Flyers. Last time these two clubs got together back in October, the Sabres had one of their toughest defeats of the season. They blew a three-goal third-period lead and ended up losing 4-3 in a shootout.
Since then the two clubs have taken different paths to get to tonight. The Flyers put together a 10 game winning streak to start off the month of December. Since then they’ve gone 2-5-3 and are falling back to the pack in the wild-card race in the East. The Sabres have been residents of the Eastern Conference basement for the majority of the season, but have started the year 2-0-1 with wins over the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets.
Tonight lines up as another opportunity for Buffalo to gain ground in the standings on a team ahead of them. Philadelphia comes in really struggling and playing their third game in four nights. The Sabres have let this opportunity slip through their hands time and again in the first half of the season. If they want to entertain any ideas of being in the playoff conversation games like tonight are ones they need to have.
The players have discussed how disappointed they were with the effort against the Bruins in the final two games of December. Tonight is the type of game where they need to play well and show it all wasn’t just talk.
What needs to be better? "Everything."
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) January 2, 2017
Philadelphia Flyers at Buffalo Sabres
Key Bank Center – 7 p.m. EST
Broadcast channels – MSG-B & CSN-PH
2016-17 Season Series: October 25th – Flyers 4 Sabres 3 (SO)
Philadelphia Flyers – 21-15-6 – 48 Points
Road Record: 8-9-3
Hot Players: Brayden Schenn and Jakub Voracek
Key Injuries: Mark Streit
Michael Raffl – Claude Giroux – Matt Read
Travis Konecny – Sean Couturier – Jakub Voracek
Dale Weise – Brayden Schenn – Wayne Simmonds
Chris VandeVelde – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – Roman Lyubimov
Ivan Provorov – Andrew MacDonald
Michael Del Zotto – Radko Gudas
Brandon Manning – Shayne Gostisbehere
Buffalo Sabres – 15-15-9 – 39 Points
Home Record: 8-8-3
Hot Players: Ryan O’Reilly and Sam Reinhart
Key Injuries: Tyler Ennis, Josh Gorges, Dmitry Kulikov, and Johan Larsson
Brian Gionta – Jack Eichel – Marcus Foligno
Kyle Okposo – Ryan O’Reilly – Will Carrier
Evander Kane – Sam Reinhart – Justin Bailey
Matt Moulson – Zemgus Girgensons – Nic Deslauriers
Rasmus Ristolainen – Jake McCabe
Zach Bogosian – Cody Franson
Taylor Fedun – Justin Falk
1) Anders Nilsson will start tonight for the Sabres in place of Robin Lehner who is out with the flu. Nilsson is 2-1-2 in his last five starts and has a .912 save percentage over those five games. The 26-year old will likely see the crease at least twice this week with a back to back on schedule for Thursday and Friday.
2) The Flyers bring a few intriguing young players into town. Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov are two first round picks from the 2015 NHL draft. Konecny gave the Sabres fits back in October and Provorov is a solid defender who can be a factor at both ends of the ice.
3) Sam Reinhart was practicing alongside Jack Eichel yesterday, but he’ll start tonight playing at center with Evander Kane and Justin Bailey. Bylsma, however, did indicate he plans to shorten the bench as the game goes on and anticipates Reinhart seeing some time on the wing with Eichel.
Bylsma – Reinhart will play center again tonight. But I'd like to shrink the lineup at times in this game to get Reinhart with Jack #Sabres
— WGR 550 (@WGR550) January 10, 2017
4) After a very strong December, Steve Mason has struggled as of late. His numbers on the season have risen back up to a 2.79 goals against average and a .903 save percentage. Michal Neuvirth has recently returned from injury but hasn’t faired much better than Mason in ten appearances with a 3.35 goals against average and a .867 save percentage.
5) A win tonight will move the Sabres within five points of the idle Ottawa Senators who currently hold third place in the Atlantic Division. They would also move within seven points of the Flyers who hold the final wild-card spot and the Sabres also hold three games in hand on Philadelphia.
Another opportunity to gain ground in the Eastern Conference has presented itself to the Sabres. They need to get away from the trend of starting slow and get on a team who has fallen on hard times as of late. I’ve mentioned this numerous times over the last month or so. Not only is it an opportunity to gain ground, but to keep a team ahead of you, who are struggling, down on the mat. Not allowing a team to gain confidence on your behalf is just as important as winning the game.