By Connor Thomas
The Flyers faced off against the Buffalo Sabres last night in South Philadelphia, and without team captain Jack Eichel, the already overmatched Sabres seemed like they would have their work cut out for them. The first 2 minutes of the game seemed to play perfectly into a lot of folks’ idea of what the game would be like, as a Buffalo turnover in their own zone turned into a scoring opportunity for James van Riemsdyk, who buried a one timer off a backside pace from Joel Farabee. Unfortunately, it only took 3 minutes for Buffalo to answer back with an early goal of their own, as Sam Reinhart beat Carter Hart over the top of his glove to even the game at 1. The Flyers were done with their 1st period scoring, but the Sabres had just gotten started. Just before the mid-way point of the 1st, Eric Staal made a great effort to try and jam the puck past Carter Hart and the sloppy rebounded ended up on the stick of Riley Sheahan, who backhanded one up and into the net. Having trouble controlling the front of the crease became a theme in the opening period with 3 minutes remaining, courtesy of Reinhart’s second goal. Taylor Hall created a great opportunity by wrapping around the back of the net, and a stiff breeze would’ve done a better job of defending Reinhart out in front of the net than the Flyers’ defense did.
Heading into the 2nd at a 3-1 deficit, there was a pall at the Wells Fargo Center as fans once again watched their team struggle in person, and clearly Alain Vigneault felt the same kind of disdain for what he had already seen, pulling Hart after the 1st in favor of Brian Elliott. Seeing your starting goalie pulled after 20 minutes of game time is not exactly conducive to success, but the combination of Scott Laughton and Kevin Hayes gave the patrons a little bit of their money’s worth 3 minutes into the 2nd period. A beautiful move by Laughton gave the patient Hayes an opportunity to rip one top shelf over the sprawling Jonas Johansson that the big forward pocketed to cut the Sabres’ lead to 1. It seemed that the comeback might be on for the orange and black, but those thoughts were put on hold just 3 minutes later when a bad angle shot from Brandon Montour got by Elliott and into the back of the net. Back to a 2 goal deficit once again, Philly needed to right the ship, and a power play opportunity was just the trick near the end of the 2nd. Actually, the goal came a couple seconds after the man advantage ended, but before the penalized Sabre could get back into the play, the Flyers’ Captain Claude Giroux was able to stuff one in from point blank range to make it a 1 goal game once again. Needing only one more score to draw even as the 3rd period began, the Flyers toiled away to no avail for the first 15 minutes of the final frame. Then, with just over 5 minutes left in regulation, Philadelphia got a power play opportunity that resulted in an absolute bomb from Shayne Gostisbehere almost from the blue line that clipped the post on its way past Johansson. JVR also set a beautiful screen out in front of the net that allowed the long slap shot to find its mark and tie the game at 4.
The final 5 minutes were scoreless, and the Flyers had officially survived long enough to gain an overtime point and even try to escape a rough night with a win as the game ended regulation tied at 4. It quickly became clear that that would be difficult in the overtime period, as Buffalo employed an incredibly passive (and annoying) strategy of entering and then quickly exiting their offensive zone in an attempt to keep the same 3 Flyers out on the ice. The puck freezing took up essentially all of the 5 minutes of allotted time, and outside of a lone man breakaway from Sean Couturier in the first minute of the period that came up empty, there was no other real opportunity for either team to win the game in OT. It would take a shootout to decide this one, and Couturier started out the Flyers by doing what he failed to just 4 minutes prior by scoring his shootout opportunity. Elliott wore a shot from Rasmus Dahlin off a pad to give the Flyers’ the advantage, which was extended on the next attempt by Nolan Patrick. Needing only one more save to lock up the win, Elliott stayed with multiple dekes from Casey Mittelstadt to turn away the 2nd shootout attempt and the Sabres’ chance at victory.
Despite the tough outing, the bottom line is that the Flyers escaped with the all-important 2 points. The now 13-7-3 Flyers will take that as they head into a Thursday night meeting with the Washington Capitals and look to put together a winning streak. It has happened before.