John Tortorella’s Philadelphia Flyers (4-4-1) open their November schedule on Wednesday as they host Don Granato’s Buffalo Sabers (4-5-0) at the Wells Fargo Center in the first game of a home-and-home set. Game time is 7:00 pm ET.
This is the first of three meetings this season between the teams and the lone game in Philadelphia. The teams will rematch at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo on Friday. The season series will conclude on April 5 with another game in Buffalo.
Wednesday’s game will be nationally televised on TNT. The radio broadcast is on 97.5 The Fanatic with Tim Saunders and Todd Fedoruk on the call and an online simulcast on Flyers Radio 24/7.
Here are five things to watch in Thursday’s game:
1. Making chances count in crunch time
The Flyers are coming off a 3-2 home loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday evening. Owen Tippett (2nd goal of the season) and Garnet Hathaway (1st) tallied first period goals but the Flyers were unable to score again.
Philly spent much of the first period in “bend but don’t break” mode and came on late to take a 2-1 lead to intermission. Carolina had the edge in play in the middle stanza, and the game went to the third period in a 2-2 deadlock. The third period could have gone either way — easily the Flyers’ best — and Philly had a slight edge in play and multiple scoring chances.
Ultimately, with the game hanging in the balance, Carolina’s Teuvo Teräväinen scored a go-ahead goal at 16:13 of the third period.
The Flyers had a whopping 12-4 edge in high-danger scoring chances in the third period and finishing the game with an 18-8 advantage in that key category. When all was said and done, the Flyers couldn’t make those chances count.
While the Hurricanes are the NHL’s No. 1 team in terms of sheer puck possession — both by the numbers and the eye test — the Buffalo Sabers are in the middle of the pack. In terms of possession quality, the Flyers rank eighth in expected goals share (53.93 percent share) to Buffalo’s 18th ranking (49.05 percent).
At least by their respective scoring chance distribution heading into Wednesday, the Flyers should be able to generate sufficient scoring chances against Buffalo. The question is whether the Flyers can capitalize if the game comes down to a goal in crunch time.
2. Instant puck possession: winning draws
Entering Wednesday’s game, the Flyers rank 26th in the NHL in faceoff winning percentage at 47.0 percent. Even Couturier, who has been excellent on faceoffs throughout his NHL career, is slightly below the break-even mark (49.5 percent) so far. Philly’s top faceoff man so far has been Scott Laughton (59.1 percent)
The Sabers rank below the Flyers in faceoff percentage so far this season at 45.7 percent (ranked 28th). Even if the Flyers do not wind up with a major edge in Wednesday’s faceoffs, they should at least not end up with as many instant puck possession disadvantages as happened against the Hurricanes.
3. Flyers power play vs. PK Sabers
The Flyers’ modest streak of scoring power play goals in back-to-back games came to an end against the Hurricanes. Philly went 0-for-5 on a night where one goal on the power play could have loomed large in the game outcome.
A couple of the Flyers’ power plays against Carolina generated good entries and a few looks at the net. In particular, in the second period, Tyson Foerster was stoned by goalie Frederik Andersen on a point-blank chance set up by Frost. The other power plays went nowhere.
For the season, the Flyers are 4-for-32 (12.5 percent, ranked 26th) on the power play. They’ve allowed one shorthanded goal.
The Sabers are off to a very good start on the penalty kill. Opposing power plays have gone 4-for-37 to date, as the Sabers have posted a success ratio of 89.2 percent on the PK. Tage Thompson scored the Sabres’ lone shorthanded goal to date in the team’s Oct. 24 game against the Ottawa Senators.
4. Flyers PK vs. Sabers power play
Heading into this past weekend, the Flyers had been in a strong groove with their penalty kill, aggressively challenging and killing plays in their own end and generating numerous shorthanded counterattacks. The past two games, the pendulum has swung.
The Flyers are 0-for-3 on the penalty kill over the last two games, with Anaheim converting both of their power play opportunities on Saturday and the Hurricanes making the most of their only opportunity on the man advantage in Monday’s game.
Philadelphia enters Wednesday’s match with four shorthanded goals to their credit: two by Travis Konecny and two by defenseman Sean Walker. Side note: Walker’s overall game has been one of the pleasant developments for the Flyers early this season. He’s been effective in a variety of situations.
The Sabers have yet to get untracked on the power play so far this season. Entering play on Wednesday, the Sabers rank 29th in the NHL (3-for-28) and have allowed a pair of shorthanded goals.
5. Behind enemy lines: Buffalo Sabers
The Sabers enter this game coming off a stellar performance in a 4-0 home shutout win over the powerhouse Colorado Avalanche on Sunday. Buffalo held Colorado to just 23 shots on goal, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen recorded his first career NHL shutout.
For the season, veteran Jeff Skinner leads the Sabers with five goals and nine points. Dahlin (2g, 7a) paces the team in assists, and Dylan Cozens (3g, 4a) and Mittelstadt (2g, 5a) have seven points a piece.
Highly touted young goalie Devon Levi (1-3-0, 3.26 GAA, .892 SV%) is day-to-day with a lower-body issue. Luukkonen (1-1-0, 2.45 GAA, .914 SV%) has made two starts and one relief appearance to date, while Eric Comrie (1-1-0, 2.45 GAA, .914 SV%) was placed on injured reserve on Oct. 31 with a lower-body injury.
Elsewhere on the injury front, Jack Quinn (Achilles tendon) is expected to be sidelined until around the leaguewide Christmas break. Top prospect Matthew Savoie (upper body) is rehabbing an upper-body injury.