Sabres vs. Flyers (1/19/21)
Brian Elliott stood on his head during his first start of the season, stopping all 40 Sabres shots in the Flyers 3-0 victory. (Derik Hamilton/AP)

Even when we lose, we win! The Philadelphia Flyers WIN their hockey game, 3-0 over the Buffalo Sabres, but lose some valuable pieces in the process. The victory ensures a split in their second “series” of the young season, responding well to their first loss of the season.

Calling this game a Pyrrhic victory might be an overstatement, but it’s close. The injury spree began late in the first period, and it never really let up. A relatively innocent hit by Jake McCabe, not too dissimilar from the one that shelfed Sean Couturier on Friday, had Phil Myers grimacing in pain. Myers took only one more shift after the McCabe hit, missing the final forty minutes.

Twenty minutes later, lightning struck twice. Once again, McCabe did the damage, finishing his check on Morgan Frost behind the Buffalo goal. Again, it was a pretty innocuous hit, but this time, the impact was clear. Frost immediately hunched over in pain and skated glided in pain to the bench. Frost was out for the third period, and both he and Myers will have MRIs tonight to reveal the damage.

And it wasn’t just the Flyers taking all the blows tonight. Sabres goalie Carter Hutton took a shot up high less than a minute in and had to get his mask repaired. The big blow came early in the second, however. Hutton denied Ivan Provorov at point blank range, but Provorov was pushed into him by Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour. Hutton was clearly shaken up and stayed in for a while, but was replaced in the 3rd period. Then with time winding down, forward Riley Sheahan took friendly fire right to the face on a failed clear puck to the face. He left the ice bloodied, too. I’m starting to wonder why they call hockey a beautiful game.

The Flyers game wasn’t pretty tonight, but there wasn’t much a chance for that to happen with the injuries to Frost and Myers. Alain Vigneault hoped to put Monday’s sound defeat in the past by shuffling almost every single line and d-pair before the game.

New Lines

Joel FarabeeKevin HayesJakub Voracek
Claude GirouxMorgan FrostJames van Riemsdyk
Oskar LindblomNolan PatrickTravis Konecny
Michael RafflScott LaughtonNicolas Aube-Kubel
Ivan ProvorovTravis Sanheim
Erik GustafssonPhil Myers
Robert HaggJustin Braun

Brian Elliott unsurprisingly received the start for the second half of the Flyers first back-to-back of the year. Monday night’s relief appearance gave Elliott a chance to shake off the rust, and a result he looked incredibly sharp tonight. There were still a few fire drills in the defensive zone, not to mention a 59-second 5-on-3 to kill. Elliott robbed Hall in tight during that two-man advantage, then stoned Jeff Skinner on two point-blank chances later on.

That being said, the Flyers definitely looked more engaged and moved the puck better through the neutral zone. For the first time this year, the Flyers actually outshot their opponent at 5-on-5 (score and venue adjusted). The Sabres found the high-danger areas much more (64.75% Expected Goals%), but it definitely felt like a step in the right direction.

The Myers injury sent the Flyers into more of a survival mode for the last two periods. Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim in particular were pressed into big minutes. The pair performed admirably. Provorov was his usual steady self in a season-high 27:02. Sanheim played the fifth most minutes of his career (25:13) but never tired. In fact, he made some outstanding plays defending the rush, keeping stars like Taylor Hall from driving cleanly to the net.

It was a banner night for those two, and while Philly’s other three defenders had some struggles, they too seemed to pick their play up in Myers’ absence. The Flyers forwards tried to pick up the slack, but they were stoned early and often by a once again outstanding Carter Hutton. Hutton wasn’t even supposed to play Monday’s game (starter Linus Ullmark was scratched due to personal reasons), but looked dialed in once again. His best work came early in the second; robbing JVR with his right skate and keeping a bouncing puck out of the net with Patrick at point-blank range.

Yet everything Hutton did, Elliott did just a little bit better. There was some luck involved, sure; Victor Olofsson hit the post with a wide open net seconds after that Patrick chance. But Elliott was equally outstanding. He was the team’s best penalty killer on a tripping penalty midway through the period, then robbed Reinhart just after Justin Braun returned.

The Sabres started to take over as the period progressed, registering ten straight shots on goal at one point. However, before the floodgates could open this night, the Flyers went on the attack. Nolan Patrick has arguably been the team’s most consistent forward, and he started a rare smooth breakout with a nice backhand pass. Probable A+ geometry student Oskar Lindblom banked a perfect outlet to spring TK behind the Sabres defense.

Konecny had actually already set up Lindblom similarly earlier in the game (he played his bank off the end boards, but Lindblom’s one-timer was denied). However, this time Konecny had the chance to finish. The Flyers top sniper sold shot, then faked to his backhand and slipped the puck five-hole. Hutton blinks first, Konecny lights the lamp, and the Flyers enter intermission with a one-goal lead.

The numbers say that the Sabres poured on the pressure in the 3rd period (74.83% xG%), but it felt like their best opportunities had already passed. Buffalo generated plenty of great looks in the first two periods, but their third period attack felt more quantity than quality. Other than a Jake Voracek tripping penalty, the Flyers weathered the storm pretty well.

Thankfully, Jake won’t have to worry about calling me an effing weasel because his third period was more good than bad. Voracek made up for the penalty with some nice hustle in the defensive zone, tipping a d-to-d pass and hustling over to block a shot within seconds.

Defense is great, but Jake’s game is all about offense. Sure enough, he delivered there, too. Erik Gustafsson has had some… adventures trying to break the puck out this year, but he showed his tantalizing potential with time winding down. With Colin Miller focused on tackling Travis Konecny (considering his impeccable chirp game tonight, it’s understandable), Gustafsson took advantage. The Gus Bus pulled a backhand saucer pass into Kevin Hayes’ station, setting up a two-on-one. Jake is usually the distributer in these plays, but this time he finished the cross-crease set-up from a slightly sharp angle.

Voracek’s first of the year took the nervousness out of the closing minutes. Instead of biting nails, the final 6:17 of the contest was relatively drama free. A long-range empty netter by Kevin Hayes sealed the deal with 1:42 to go. For the first time since October 9, 2019, the Flyers recored a shutout at the Wells Fargo Center, blanking the Sabres to improve to 3-1-0.

Brian Elliott was certainly the show stopper for the Flyers tonight. The Sabres peppered Elliott with 40 shots (the most the Flyers have allowed this season). Their best players found the high-danger areas often. Yet Elliott stood tall and was downright impeccable. As I wrote 24 hours ago, sometimes your goalie will steal these types of games. That happened tonight, but I do think the Flyers showed some progress tonight, even if the fancy stats don’t necessarily back that up.

Any chance of this being a sparkling showing for the Flyers went out the door when Myers went down the tunnel. Yet the Flyers handled the adversity as best as they could. Sports are always about the next man up, and the Flyers handled that situation pretty well tonight.

They still have a ways to go to reach the “actually good” level contenders strive for (they’ve still been outshot and out-chanced in 11 of 12 periods). But I can only write that so many times. A true contender needs to play better than the Flyers have so far this season. But a true contender always has to fight through adversity. The Flyers admirably beat a potent Sabres attack and some pretty quiet officials (some couple fairly clear Buffalo interference went un-whistled). Down two players four games into this crazy season, just take the points and rest up. You deserve it, Flyers.

Check out my preview of the Flyers next opponent, the defending President’s Trophy winning Boston Bruins.

Lindies

Some coaches like starting their fourth line for games to “set the tone.” Alain Vigneault usually isn’t one of those, but he made an exception tonight. The Raffl-Laughton-NAK line was exceptional Monday in the offensive zone and moved the puck efficiently. In fact, they were the only line that remained in tact from Monday’s disappointing defeat.

I really hope the Morgan Frost injury isn’t a significant. Myers is the more important player, but Frost’s line with JVR and Giroux was easily Philadelphia’s best. In seven minutes together, the trio posted a gaudy 72.73% and 99.09% xG% at 5-on-5, easily leading the Flyers forwards. It’d be such a shame to see Frost’s shot at sticking full-time disappear due to injury.

Despite the shutout, the best save of the game might not have been Elliott’s. Ivan Provorov robbed Olofsson with a glove save, denying a surefire goal for the Sabres forward. Olofsson was *this* close to a two-goal game, but came out with a goose egg. That’s hockey for you.

What the heck was going on with the NBC Sports Philadelphia broadcast? Twice early in the second period the network went to commercial when there wasn’t a TV timeout. Fans missed about a minute of action combined, during which the Sabres apparently hit the crossbar. I know they have to make some tough financial decisions, but this seems a little extreme.

There have been nine NHL players ever with the first name “Rasmus” and somehow three of them played tonight for the Sabres. Just thought you should know that.

Travis Konecny’s fourth goal of the year ties him with Red Wings forward (and Cherry Hill, NJ native!) Bobby Ryan for the league lead.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel was indeed fined $4,633.62,”the maximum allowable under the CBA,” (take a shot) for that punch to Rasmus Dahlin at the end of Monday’s contest.

One underrated thing the Flyers did that I loved — with 1.7 seconds left in the 2nd when Rasmus Ristolainen took a retaliation penalty, AV pulled Elliott for the extra attacker. With the face-off in the Buffalo zone, there’s no way the Sabres could’ve scored on the empty net before time ran out. That type of choice rarely leads to anything, but it’s still smart, and eventually decisions like that pay off.

Pittsburgh’s Colton Sceviour and Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov scored six seconds apart in the first period of their contest tonight. It’s the shortest time between non-empty net goals since Michael Raffl and Claude Giroux scored in the same timespan on April 7, 2018 (per NHL PR).

The NHL announced they are suspending use of the special tracking pucks the league starting using in last year’s playoff. The change is being made due to performance issues compared to normal pucks. In a statement made Tuesday afternoon, the NHL announced its temporarily going back to standard 2019-20 pucks and hopes to reinstate these new pucks soon.

3 Stars

3rd: Ivan Provorov – 27:02 TOI, 3 Shots, 3 Hits, 5 Blocks

2nd: Travis Konecny – Goal (4), 2 Shots, 6 Hits

1st: Brian Elliott – 40-Save Shutout on 2.92 Expected Goals Against (All Situations)

Next

BUF – 1/22, 7 PM @ Washington (2-0-2)

PHI – 1/21, 7 PM @ Boston (1-0-1)

*Advanced Stats via Natural Stat Trick