Buffalo Sabres

Bye comes at wrong time for Flyers

Bye comes at wrong time for Flyers

BOX SCORE

Brian Elliott is headed to the Bahamas for vacation.

Sean Couturier is making his way back to Quebec to work on a home he’s having built.

Brandon Manning and Valtteri Filppula will be dogsledding in Vermont.

And Claude Giroux is boarding a plane to Ottawa to see family and friends.

The Flyers' five-day bye week is here and they can relax a little bit easier riding a three-game winning streak and having played some of their best hockey recently with a record of 11-4-1 since Dec. 4.

“I think anytime you have that much time off you want to feel good about your game,” defenseman Brandon Manning said. “I think something we need to focus on is staying even keel.”

“We’re very close to the playoffs right now,” Jakub Voracek said. “I was reading some articles and listening to some people that this team should get blown up during that 10-game losing streak. We didn’t. We stayed patient. We’re in the playoff right now, so that’s good for us.”

The 4-1 win Sunday over the Sabres was vitally important for backup Michal Neuvirth, who saw action for just the fifth time since his last victory Nov. 2 against the Blues (see observations).

“It’s a huge win for me,” said Neuvirth, who was on his way to board a flight for Mexico. “I haven’t been feeling good about myself lately. It’s frustrating when you get injured and you can’t help your teammates, but I feel good about myself right now. Kind of a shame that we’ve won three in a row and leaving for the break, but it’s the schedule.”

The Flyers leaned on Neuvirth heavily in the first six minutes of the game, as they were forced to kill off Voracek’s hooking penalty and then Wayne Simmonds' slashing call just 47 seconds after successfully killing off the Sabres' first power play.

Neuvirth’s signature stop was a highlight reel glove save on Sabres forward Sam Reinhart on Buffalo’s second power-play opportunity. Overall, Neuvirth turned aside 30 of the Sabres' 31 shots on net.

“I had a good warmup and I was feeling good all morning,” Neuvirth said. “Playing the third period against Pittsburgh helped me a lot, so I was more relaxed coming into the game.”

“I think it’s a great way for him to go into the break and to come back into our lineup,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “It’s been a long time since he’s had the opportunity to start a game. For him to come in, and I think back to that (Reinhart) save he had in the first period. I thought that was a great way to say I’m ready to step in and help this team.”

After Buffalo beat Neuvirth in the opening minutes of the second period for a 1-0 lead, the Flyers had an immediate response less than two minutes later. Shayne Gostisbehere forced a neutral zone turnover and then converted his ninth goal of the season in the same sequence to tie the game.

 “It’s kind of a risky play there coming down and I backed off,” said Gostisbehere, who has 32 points in 39 games. “Thankfully, he pushed it. I was trying to push it to him and I just followed up the play.”

Minutes later, Couturier answered with a power-play goal for a 2-1 lead and the Flyers never looked back.

Impressively, the Flyers also improved to 4-2-2 in the second game of a back-to-back, and with a pair of victories in a span of 24 hours, the Flyers temporarily pushed their way past the Islanders and the Penguins in the Metropolitan Division, where 10 points separate the eight divisional teams.

When the Flyers collectively return from their bye week destinations, they’ll be facing a crucial stretch of hockey with six of their next nine games coming against divisional opponents with the All-Star break sandwiched in between.

“I don’t know if we need any recovery time,” Hakstol said. “We’ve got it now in front of us, so we’ll try and take advantage of it and come back. We’ve gone one real hard work day and right back into games. That’s going to be a real hard turnaround.“

More Sean Couturier, more points before Flyers' bye

More Sean Couturier, more points before Flyers' bye

BOX SCORE

The Flyers enter their bye week on a high after defeating the Buffalo Sabres, 4-1, Sunday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center, sweeping back-to-back weekend games on home ice as they also topped St. Louis Saturday.

The Flyers improved their home record to 11-8-4. With the win, the Flyers now have 46 points, tying them with Carolina for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference heading into Sunday evening's action around the league.

Shortly after Ryan O'Reilly opened the scoring early in the second with a power-play rocket, Shayne Gostisbehere's score knotted things with his ninth of the season, as he created the turnover in the neutral zone that led to him finishing the play with the goal.

Sean Couturier stayed scorching hot with two more goals, including the game-winner on a power-play one-timer from the dot midway through the second. He then added an empty-netter to make it 3-1 in the third as the Flyers' top line center continues to lead the team with his 23 goals. 

Ivan Provorov also chipped in with an empty net goal for extra insurance.

Michal Neuvirth earned his first win since Nov. 2 as he stopped 30 of 31 shots. 

Jakub Voracek added a pair of assists, increasing his NHL-leading amount to 43.

• The second period started out just like the first with more penalties (the Flyers took two very early ones to start the game) as the Flyers committed yet another stick infraction — Andrew MacDonald for hooking — and this time, the Sabres made the Flyers' PK pay. O’Reilly found a soft spot between the four Flyers on the ice, settled in and roofed a one-time shot over Neuvirth’s shoulder for a 1-0 Sabres lead. Ideally, you want this shot blocked or the play better defended. Neuvirth was slow to react, perhaps thinking he had the near post sealed off.

• The Flyers had a quick answer after the Sabres' goal as Gostisbehere stepped up in the neutral zone and broke up Jake McCabe’s pass, which resulted in a Flyers rush. Some very selfless passing as Jori Lehtera hit Scott Laughton, who then fed it back to Ghost, who was the trailer on the play. Gostisbehere made no mistake to tie the game at 1-1. It was very important, and not just on the scoreboard as the Flyers seized the momentum from Buffalo after allowing the first goal.  

• I really liked how the Flyers changed up their look on their power-play goal in their third PP opportunity. That goal, courtesy of Couturier, gave them a 2-1 lead. With Claude Giroux moving from his usual spot on the left-side half-wall to the right side, he took a puck from Voracek and skated behind the net with all four Sabres skaters watching him. It allowed Couturier to slide in under the coverage and fire a one-timer in the opposite direction from where Sabres goalie Robin Lehner was moving.

• The Flyers come so close to a two-goal lead later in the second as Voracek came up with a slick power move along the left boards, squeezing through a pair of Sabres players, which led to a 3-on-1. Voracek connected with Wayne Simmonds, but Lehner got just enough of his glove to deny the Flyers a goal. You’d like to see Simmonds bury those types of opportunities as he hasn’t been much of a factor this season at even strength. 

• Robert Hagg nearly broke Lehner’s collarbone with a one-time slap shot from about 17 feet away as he caught Lehner in the unprotected area between the mask and his shoulder pads. Once again, it was Giroux’s vision to spot the open seam in the Sabres' defense and create the scoring chance for Hagg. 

• The Flyers gave the Sabres a power-play opportunity in the opening minute as Voracek was called for hooking. The Flyers' PK kept Buffalo’s top PP unit around the perimeter, not allowing any looks from the high-danger areas. Less than a minute after the Flyers killed off that penalty, Simmonds was whistled for a similar slashing call that he’s been guilty of several times this season.

• On the Sabres' second power play, Neuvirth robbed Sam Reinhart with the glove. A fantastic save, while at the same time, he was just a little slow reading and reacting to the pass to Reinhart. Neuvirth had to resort to his athleticism over his technique there.

• It took a while for all four lines to get an even-strength shift thanks to penalties, but Nolan Patrick had a nice look to Michael Raffl when they were able to get on the ice. But Patrick’s dish was just a little far from Raffl's outstretched stick. If current Phantom Oskar Lindblom can evolve into a real sniper, potentially paired with Patrick, that duo could be deadly for years to come.

• The Flyers' power play certainly wasn’t short on zone time in the first period, spending 1:30 of their two minutes in the Sabres' end in their one and only attempt. The Flyers were able to work it down low to Simmonds and try to work in a rebound, but they weren’t able to break the Sabres' box and with any cross-ice passing lanes, mostly working it around the outside.  

• The Flyers again came out with a sluggish opening period as they were outshot, 12-5, by the Sabres. Clearly, they never gained any momentum after they were forced to kill off that pair early of penalties, and that played a huge role in not being able to sustain consistent offensive pressure at even strength. 

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny
Michael Raffl-Valterri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Tyrell Goulbourne-Scott Laughton-Jori Lehtera

Defense
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg-Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goaltending
Michal Neuvirth
Brian Elliott

Rangers top Sabres in Winter Classic thriller

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USA Today Images

Rangers top Sabres in Winter Classic thriller

NEW YORK -- J.T. Miller scored a power-play goal 2:43 into overtime to lift the New York Rangers to a 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday in the NHL's 10th Winter Classic at Citi Field.

Paul Carey and Michael Grabner scored in the first period for the Rangers, who improved to 4-0 in regular season outdoor games. Henrik Lundqvist, who has been in goal for all four of the wins, stopped 31 shots to help New York improve to 6-2-3 in its last 11 overall.

Rasmus Ristolainen had a goal and an assist, Sam Reinhart also scored and Kyle Okposo had two assists for the Sabres. Robin Lehner finished with 39 saves for Buffalo, which has just 10 wins this season but is 4-3-5 in its last 12 games.

The Rangers went on the power play 2:15 into overtime when Jacob Josefson was whistled for tripping Jimmy Vesey. Miller scored the winner on a rebound in front off a shot by Kevin Shattenkirk.

The game, played at the home of baseball's New York Mets, was on the 10th anniversary of the Sabres' 2-1 shootout loss to Pittsburgh in Buffalo in the first Winter Classic. This was also the league's 24th regular season outdoor game.

Buffalo was 1 for 5 on the power play after coming in 30th in the NHL at 12.4 percent. The Rangers went 1 for 3 with the man advantage.

Lundqvist made a sensational save on an attempt by Zemgus Girgensons with 2:12 remaining to keep the score tied.

The national anthem was performed by a group of children born in 2008, the year of the first Winter Classic. The Goo Goo Dolls, a rock band that started in the Buffalo area, performed during the first intermission.

Despite the official temperature at puck drop at 20.5 degrees, the game drew a sellout crowd of 41,821.

There was a shadow across about half the ice lengthwise at the start of the game. Lehner in the Sabres' goal was in the shade and Lundquist was standing in the sun just beyond the shadow. By the middle of the opening period, the shadow was at least partially covering about two-thirds of the ice, with the team benches in sun on the side facing where home plate usually sits.

The playing surface was completely in the shade at the start of the second period, except for the side boards to Lehner's right on the first base side of the field.

The Sabres trailed 2-0 after one period before Reinhart cut the deficit in half in the opening minute of the second period. Lundqvist stopped a slap shot by Rasmus Ristolainen but Reinhart knocked in the rebound at 56 seconds.

Shortly before that, Lehner made a stellar stop on a short-handed breakaway by Grabner that would've given the Rangers a three-goal lead.

The Sabres tied it in the opening minute of the third. Ristolainen fired a wrist shot off a pass from Ryan O'Reilley for his second at 27 seconds.

To mark the 10th anniversary of their appearance in the Winter Classic, the Sabres gave up a home game to be in this one since the Rangers are contractually obligated to play all their home games at Madison Square Garden for a tax exemption.

New York got on the scoreboard first as Carey got a pass from Jesper Fast and fired it past Lehner from straightaway for his fifth of the season at 4:09.

Grabner made it 2-0 a little more than four minutes later. Marc Staal sent the puck of Lehner's back as he spun around and skated past the left side of the goal, and it came to Grabner at the right side and he put it in for his 18th at 8:20.