The red-hot Flyers look to extend their winning streak to nine games tonight, against a struggling Buffalo Sabres team. The Sabres are currently in the midst of a five-game losing streak, and their prospects of ending that streak are not looking good. The Flyers happen to have one of the best home records in the NHL but combine that with Carter Hart in net, that is a combination difficult to overcome. Teams have rarely experienced victory against Hart when in Philadelphia this season. When playing in the confines of Wells Fargo Center, Hart has posted a record of 19-2-2, a goals-against average of 1.83 and an incredible .942 save percentage.
The Flyers have had to shut down high-impact players as of late, such as Artemi Panarin and Alexander Ovechkin. They have another high-priority player to keep an eye on tonight in the Sabres captain Jack Eichel. Eichel is above a point-per-game pace with 77 points in 66 games played, including a career-high 35 goals. His previous career-high was 28 goals from last season, and with 16 games left he is definitely looking to pad his stats. Former 2018 first-overall pick Rasmus Dahlin has had a nice season for himself as well, putting up 38 points. The Sabres are currently out of the wild card race with 66 points, and 13 points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the third spot in the Atlantic Division. The Sabres only have one other 20+ goal scorer at the moment in Sam Reinhart but have players that could cause problems. Players experiencing down years such as skilled Jeff Skinner, a 40 goal-scorer last season could still need to be vigilantly defended.
The Flyers on the other hand are firing on all cylinders. Defenseman Ivan Provorov has looked like a man on a mission, scoring in his last two contests and continuing to be a dangerous powerplay asset. Provorov is now sitting at 13 goals, while the Flyers as a whole have the most goals from defensemen in the entire NHL. No one on this years Flyers squad has broken the 30 goal mark this season as of now, and the offense has been spread around all four lines plus other blue-liners such as Matt Niskanen and Travis Sanheim, who each have 8 goals. A perfect example is the Flyers game against Carolina this past Thursday. The Flyers won handily 4-1 but saw goals scored by Provorov, bottom-six players Michael Raffl and Nicholas Aube-Kubel and then a top-line player in Sean Couturier. Notably, after Raffl’s goal you could see the reaction of the Flyer’s bench, how happy they were for a player like Raffl and how well he has been playing to get rewarded. Teams that find success in the playoffs get key contributions from their depth, and this Flyers team seems built for that right now. Even Joel Farabee found himself with a few great chances to score after being thrown back in the lineup.
I also wanted to quickly address the play of Jake Voracek, who in my mind has really changed his game under Alain Vigneault. Of course, the eight assists in the last four games will jump out at you, but it is more than that. Voracek has shown the willingness and ability to be an effective back-checker with his speed, and therefore has found himself with more opportunities on offense to display his elite passing ability. Yes, Voracek at his best is an elite passer in this league, and it has been great to see that this season it appears he is all in.
However, the Flyers need to play the Sabres like any other top team they have faced recently, which would continue to prove this team is different from years past. We have seen the Flyers play down to competition in previous seasons and consequently lose games they really should not have. With games against two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference in the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning coming up, winning games against teams like the Sabres at this point in the season is crucial.
My player to watch tonight: Kevin Hayes