The Buffalo Sabres take the ice for their pregame skate with the hopes of once again playing spoiler for another team in the Metropolitan Division as they return home to host the Philadelphia Flyers in the second of three games between these old rivals this season. The Sabres (13-26-5) are coming off another shootout victory over the Washington Capitals that saw them win in typical Buffalo fashion. They played a hard nosed, heavy checking game that saw few goals and managed to hang on until the shootout, in which they are 6-2. The Flyers (23-19-4) hope to avoid the mistakes of their division foes and pick up two points against a team surging from the basement back to respectability.
Home has been sweet for the Sabres in the last month, where they haven’t lost a regulation game in eight contests. Their last game in Buffalo was a shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, which brought their record to 6-0-2 in that stretch. While it’s easy to predict that the Sabres will look at another 2-1 shootout affair against a team that sits at 18th in Goals/Game this year, history suggests these two will sort things out in regulation. In the last six games between Buffalo and Philadelphia, the home team has won in regulation every time. As usual, special teams and goaltending will rule the day here as it could come down to the first team to blink and give up a weak goal.
The key for Buffalo is to keep the potent skill players of Philadelphia to the outside. The Sabre blue liners have done a good job of that against opponents for the last month or so, but the Flyers pack a potent punch when they want to. Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds lead the team in points as each have at least 30 points. By contrast, the Sabres only have one player with 20 points and that’s center Cody Hodgson. The Sabres did a great job keeping the potent Caps on the perimeter and Ryan Miller put up some fantastic saves to keep them alive. They’ll need much of the same against Philly. The Buffalo power play didn’t score in Washington on Sunday, but they did maintain some strong pressure. More of the same is in order for a team that still struggles to score.
For Philly, it’s all about maintaining pressure and asserting themselves. The Sabres have been a slippery bunch of late. They’ll put the opposition to sleep because Buffalo lacks much of an offensive presence. They dump and chase, grind along the wall and take low percentage shots in the hope of creating a muck in front of the net. The Philly defensemen need to keep the lanes clear for their goaltender and the forwards need to press their speed advantage aggressively to try and catch the Sabre defenders flat footed. This has been a hard task for opponents because the Sabres play so conservatively, but the Flyers must try anyway. Two or three goals has usually been enough in regulation to beat Buffalo and if Philadelphia is serious about making a playoff run, they need to prove they can put away inferior opponents without a shootout or even overtime to do it.
The game will likely see Swedish Olympian Jhonas Enroth in the net for Buffalo (saving Miller for tomorrow night’s tilt in Toronto) and Steve Mason tending goal for the Philadelphia Flyers. It will be broadcast at 7:30 PM on NBC Sports Network. You can tune in for local, Pierre McGuire-free commentary on 550 AM in Buffalo.