Sabres-Flyers Preview

A poor stretch has desperation setting in for the Philadelphia

Flyers.

Facing a struggling opponent could be just what they need to

begin turning things around.

The Flyers attempt to win for just the second time in seven

tries by continuing their success against the last-place Buffalo

Sabres at Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night.

Philadelphia (31-18-7) was expected to be an obvious contender

in the Eastern Conference, but the team is 10 points back of the

conference-leading New York Rangers as those lofty expectations

appear to be going unmet.

“I’m not ready to paint such a negative picture as everybody

else is,” coach Peter Laviolette said.

The Flyers may be doing that for him, mired in a 1-4-1 stretch

that includes Sunday’s 4-3 loss at Detroit after falling 5-2 at

home to the Rangers the previous day.

“We have to win the next game,” Laviolette told the team’s

official website. “What the Rangers do or what somebody behind us

does that’s out of our control. We need to focus on our next game

and get on a little bit of a roll here down the stretch.”

The Flyers have won four in a row against Buffalo (24-26-6),

including the last two of a seven-game playoff series to oust the

Sabres from the opening round last year. They’ve won both meetings

this season on the road, including 5-4 in overtime Dec. 7,

This is the first meeting in Philadelphia since the Flyers won

5-2 in Game 7 of their playoff series.

They’re hosting back-to-back games, including Saturday’s meeting

with Atlantic Division-rival Pittsburgh, but they’ve lost six of

eight (2-3-3) as hosts.

An improved effort from Ilya Bryzgalov would surely help. The

enigmatic goaltender has missed three games with flu-like symptoms,

but is scheduled to start against the Sabres. He’s 19-11-6 with a

2.78 goals-against average as he struggles to live up to the $51

million contract he was given after being acquired from Phoenix in

the offseason.

Bryzgalov hasn’t been given much help recently, compiling a 1.92

GAA while going 1-1-3 in his last six games – five starts. He

hasn’t been sharp in two season meetings with Buffalo, winning both

despite a 2.94 GAA.

Claude Giroux has one goal and four assists versus the Sabres

this season after collecting nine points against them in the

playoffs. The All-Star center, who leads Philadelphia with 62

points, had four goals and three assists in six games before being

blanked by the Red Wings.

The Flyers will be without center Zac Rinaldo, who was suspended

two games for launching to hit Red Wings defenseman Jonathan

Ericsson on Sunday.

While Philadelphia is enduring a disappointing stretch, the

Sabres have been dealing with unfulfilled expectations all season.

They’re at the bottom of the Northeast and ahead of only Carolina

in the East.

Scoring has been their biggest problem, falling 4-1 to New

Jersey on Tuesday after losing 2-1 to Tampa Bay three days

prior.

The Sabres have scored three or more goals in regulation just

five times in 20 games. The only consistent line that is producing

features captain Jason Pominville, who has four goals and two

assists during a five-game scoring streak.

He has three goals and seven assist in his last nine overall

meetings with Philadelphia.

“We need pucks to go in for different people,” coach Lindy Ruff

said.

Thomas Vanek is one of those people. The left wing has one goal

over his past 13 games.

Ville Leino will be making his return to Wells Fargo Center

after playing parts of two seasons with the Flyers. The left wing

had 19 goals and 34 assists with them in 2010-11, and his 21 points

in 19 playoff games keyed Philadelphia’s run to the 2010 Stanley

Cup finals.