Flyers 6, Sabres 2: Unanswered eruption kicks off road trip

Flyers 6, Sabres 2: Unanswered eruption kicks off road trip


The Flyers washed out the bad taste of Buffalo from a few weeks ago.

Claude Giroux scored the go-ahead goal shorthanded and the Flyers rolled the Sabres, 6-2, Saturday at KeyBank Center.

Has Anthony Stolarz supplanted himself as the No. 1 goaltender and how did the Flyers cope without Sean Couturier for the first time this season?

Here are my observations:

• With Couturier unavailable for this game, I don’t think Dave Hakstol had many solid options before ultimately moving Claude Giroux back to center for the first time since the end of the 2016-17 season. I didn’t like the idea of moving Nolan Patrick into that role against the lethal Jack Eichel line as Patrick hasn’t looked engaged too much lately.

The Flyers' first goal doesn’t happen without Giroux taking the faceoff on a set play from the left circle.

• Buffalo struck first with two goals from Eichel, taking full advantage against the Flyers' fourth line and the pairing of Radko Gudas and Robert Hagg. It was impressive how Eichel backchecked and started the breakout from Buffalo’s end. Jori Lehtera simply couldn’t keep up with a much quicker Eichel and Gudas gave Eichel too much space to fire off the shot that gave Buffalo a 1-0 lead.

• Stolarz continues to build on his confidence and has proven, if anything, he can be a dependable backup in the NHL. He had a handful of spectacular saves in the first period to keep it a one-goal game.

Stolarz also had a breakaway save on Eichel in the second period and then stopped Kyle Okposo’s one-timer with the low glove.

For his 6-foot-6 frame, Stolarz has looked really good at sealing off the bottom third of the net.   

• Will a little bit of offense carry over and give Ivan Provorov some confidence at the defensive end? Provorov’s goal was a big boost for the Flyers, with him pinching in on a pass from Scott Laughton. I think Provorov needed a jolt like that to his game after the overtime finish against Columbus and how he got turnstiled by Buffalo’s Tage Thompson in the first period. 

• The Flyers committed their first penalty with the game tied at 2-2 as Travis Sanheim was called for holding the stick, which I thought was a ticky-tack call — two players jostling for position just outside the crease.

However, it led to the Flyers scoring a shorthanded goal as Giroux snapped a shot high glove on Linus Ullmark, who never flinched. It was the same exact shot Giroux lasered past Sergei Bobrovsky on Thursday. It was also Giroux’s first shorthanded goal since Nov. 23, 2015.

• Giroux’s increased presence on the penalty kill coupled with the return of Michael Raffl has me convinced the penalty-kill issues are personnel problems and not as many issues with the structure. However, being more aggressive has helped out as well. Against the Sabres, credit the Flyers' discipline for giving up just one power-play opportunity without their top penalty-killer Couturier.

The Flyers have not allowed a power-play goal in their last six games.    

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Flyers prospect Egor Zamula can 'do things that not many players can'

Flyers prospect Egor Zamula can 'do things that not many players can'

Back in January 2018, Calgary Hitmen general manager Jeff Chynoweth saw a slender 17-year-old defenseman and thought “huge upside.”

Two years later, Chynoweth has watched the once raw and cocooned prospect play his final WHL game. The GM no longer sees potential — he sees a player.

That player is Egor Zamula, now 19 years old and hunting down the NHL, a prospect who has gone from diaphanous to dynamite within the Flyers’ farm system.

“The incline has been very high,” Chynoweth said last Saturday in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia.

The incline is at a halt — for now. Zamula, an undrafted product who signed an entry-level contract with the Flyers in September 2018, had his 2019-20 season cut short because of a back injury. Zamula has been in the Philadelphia area since mid-January and was scheduled to undergo surgery Tuesday, according to Chynoweth.

While the incline has been put on hiatus, the excitement about it has not.

In 2017-18, Zamula scored 18 points over 69 games between the Regina Pats and Hitmen. In 2018-19, after the Flyers signed Zamula thanks to the diligence of amateur scout Mark Greig, the lanky blueliner recorded 56 points (10 goals, 46 assists) through 61 games for Calgary.

At Flyers development camp in the summer and training camp during the fall, Zamula showed his smooth skating stride, disruptive length and confidence with the puck. His strengths are particularly appealing when accentuated in an Alain Vigneault type of system, which encourages defensemen to push pace, pin the opposition and make plays.

After drawing high praise from Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher, Zamula put up 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists) and a plus-19 rating in 28 games this season, his third junior hockey campaign. There won’t be a fourth and final one.

What I liked about his game was he could see the ice very well, he had a long, active stick,” Chynoweth said. “Being a 6-foot-4 guy anyways and with a long stick, he was good at getting pucks away from opposing players, he could slow the game down. For a big man, he could thread the pass like a needle in a haystack. He could do things that not many players can. He had a bomb from the point.

He was almost a point-a-game player last year, you look at the numbers he put up last year as an 18-year-old, and then he just continued right into this year, point-a-game player and unfortunately got hurt at the world juniors. But he was having a great season, he had a great world juniors, named one of the top three players for Russia at the world juniors. I mean, the sky was the limit, and then unfortunately he has a back injury.

Zamula’s season came to an end at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship where he went down swinging. He helped lead Russia to a silver medal with five points (two goals, three assists) in seven games, playing through the injured back.

"He's been playing in pain for a while and playing remarkably well, but not at 100 percent," Fletcher said two weeks ago.

The Hitmen stated the injury was a result of a degenerative condition that intensified at the world juniors tournament. Could a degenerative issue be a concern moving forward?

Chynoweth didn’t believe so.

“I just think that this is something that he’s had and it just got progressively worse,” he said. “Just to tell you, to speak about his pain threshold, we never once heard about it when he was here. He played and it just got worse as he got more in the last little bit. It just got to a point where they had to have something to do about it. He’s going to have surgery, he’s going to be out three to four months but he should be ready for the start of development camp for the Flyers after the draft.”

Zamula will most likely open the 2020-21 season with AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley, but you never know. With the Feb. 24 trade deadline and a whole offseason ahead before next training camp, things can change.

Zamula will continue to change as he recovers and gears up for pro hockey. Gaining more strength will be a focus during the offseason. Zamula was listed at 6-foot-3, 160 pounds to start the 2018-19 season. This season, he was 6-foot-4, 170.

“I think that’s the biggest thing, he’s going to have to get stronger,” Chynoweth said. “You can never stop working on your skating, you see how fast the NHL game is, it’s getting faster all the time. But the things he does well, you can’t teach. Most guys put on weight as they get older and get stronger. Obviously now being with the Flyers in Philadelphia for the surgery, he’ll be there under their watchful eye through the rehab process. And I’m sure that once he’s cleared to start working out, they’ll do a great job.”

Chynoweth is looking forward to seeing Zamula in Calgary again.

Not as a prospect, but as an NHL player.

“The next time we watch him, hopefully it will be on Saddledome ice when the Flyers come to town,” he said.

“The Flyers have a good one there. … I think the sky’s the limit for Egor.”

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NHL playoff picture: Why Flyers fans should be concerned about second half postseason race

NHL playoff picture: Why Flyers fans should be concerned about second half postseason race

On Saturday, we broke down why Flyers fans should be hopeful for the post-All-Star break stretch. Today, we look at the reasons for concern.

Alain Vigneault has 11 playoff berths on his résumé. He knows the requisites for a postseason club and the Flyers have failed to look like one in a key aspect.

"As a team that considers themselves a playoff team, you need to have a good road record," Vigneault said last month.

The Flyers do not through 25 road games. As stingy as they have been at home, they've been the polar opposite away from home. On the road, the Flyers are 10-13-2, have a minus-30 goal differential and are allowing the NHL's second-most goals per game at 3.80.

The figures above are a major concern and the Flyers must stem the tide over their final 16 road games. Vigneault's team still has two trips to Washington, D.C., two to Tampa Bay, Florida, two to Madison Square Garden and one more to Pittsburgh. Those matchups with the Capitals, Lightning, Rangers and Penguins will be stiff tests.

Speaking of the schedule, the Flyers are battling in the NHL's deepest division and have 14 games remaining against Metro teams. The Flyers are in sixth place of the Metropolitan Division (three points out of third place) but would be in first place of the Pacific Division.

The Flyers will be challenged the rest of the way and so, too, will their depth at forward. The Flyers are a middle-of-the-pack scoring club (15th in the NHL with 3.06 goals per game) and without Oskar Lindblom (Ewing's sarcoma) and Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder).

Is the team's youth in the bottom six enough for the playoffs and a competitive shot? Or will (and can) general manager Chuck Fletcher add at the Feb. 24 trade deadline?

Big questions and we'll have answers soon.

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