The Buffalo Sabres have their first chance to exact revenge on the Philadelphia Flyers after their first-round playoff loss last season.
Both teams have significantly different rosters but still have a familiar core that will remember the seven-game epic that dispatched the Sabres and left the Flyers gasping for air before their second-round series. Ville Leino will play against his former team for the first time and Ilya Bryzgalov will give the new Flyers media rules a test after his 5-1 win against Carolina.
The Sabres have had a rough week and a half after busting out of the gates with a 5-1 record. Buffalo is 1-3 over their last four games and it appears that their struggles on home ice have carried over from last season.
Still, they are currently in the Eastern Conference’s top eight and are in a three-way tie with the Flyers and Panthers with 13 points. Of course, it is very early to be discussing the playoff picture.
Both the Sabres and Flyers will be searching to gain some stability with this game. Ryan Miller had a sizzling start that matched his team’s success. After a couple so-so outings, Miller is in need of a bounce back game. The same can be said for Philadelphia’s big money goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. After signing a monster deal in the offseason, Bryzgalov’s numbers aren’t matching those going into his bank account. However, he had a fine showing against the Hurricanes and has had plenty of rest entering this game.
Lindy Ruff made some interesting line changes prior to a grueling work out on Monday. He followed with a special teams specific practice yesterday. The additional preparation time should put Buffalo in good shape for a strong showing tonight. If nothing else they should come out trying to prove a point after getting bagged by their coach.
Ryan Miller vs. Ilya Bryzgalov. There are going to be plenty of things to watch for tonight, but the showdown between the big money goalies will be intriguing. Despite the fact that a goaltender’s performance is 100% independent from that of his counterpart, the many critics of both will be watching with a keen eye. If one plays with a better edge expect his team to win.
BUF: Ryan Miller 8GP, 4-4-0, 2.14 GAA, .930 SV%
PHI: Ilya Bryzgalov 9GP, 4-4-1, 3.16 GAA, .880 SV%
What To Watch For
1. Ville Leino has not only inherited Tim Connolly’s responsibilities, he also inherited his critics. The prized free agent hasn’t found his groove through ten games and multiple line changes. His newest role is centering Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. This will be an all-or-nothing venture for the playmaking Finn. I would expect him to succeed with the team’s two best scoring weapons. Keep an eye on Subway Line 2.0.
2. The sixth defenseman. It would appear that Mike Weber is poised to make his season debut. Who better to play him against than a muck and grind team like Philly? Weber will take the place of Marc-Andre Gragnani, who was replaced by Derek Roy on the top power play unit yesterday. It would be shocking if Weber doesn’t play after than move by Ruff. Gragnani wasn’t contributing as a power play specialist and was awful in his zone, seems like an easy decision.
3. Luke Adam, Derek Roy and Drew Stafford may quickly click or the latter two may continue to struggle. Adam is coming off the Sabres’ top line in hopes of sparking the two veterans. If this shuffle doesn’t prove effective – plus the Leino experiment – the Sabres could be in serious trouble offensively.
2010-11 Season Series BUF 2-2-0
10/26/2010, Wachovia Center, Sabres 3 – Flyers 6
1/11/2011, HSBC Arena, Sabres 2 – Flyers 5
3/5/2011, Wachovia Center, Sabres 5 – Flyers 3
4/8/2011, HSBC Arena, Sabres 4 – 3 OT