BUFFALO, N.Y. — After sinking in November, the Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres have headed in different directions.
The two teams will meet on Friday in Buffalo before each travels on Saturday for one final game before the Christmas break.
The Flyers (15-12-7) won just two games in November (2-5-6) but have been much improved of late. Philadelphia has just two losses in December (7-2) and is back in the playoff hunt. Heading into Thursday night’s action, the Flyers were two points out of the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
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The Sabres (8-19-7), meanwhile, have continued to sink. Buffalo lost 10 of 13 games in November (3-8-2) and have remained on the losing side as of late. Even with a stretch of points in four straight games, the Sabres have a December record of 2-4-3.
Helping to lead the way for Philadelphia is captain Claude Giroux. The 29-year-old has bounced back from a down 2016-17 season and is second on the team in scoring with 39 points (13 goals, 26 assists) in 34 games. Last year, he had 58 points (14 goals, 44 assists) in 82 games.
Giroux recently said that he felt the criticism from outside sources but that it only served as motivation to turn things around.
“It got a little personal, yeah,” Giroux said. “I try not to read too many things but obviously there wasn’t a lot of positive articles out there this summer but you kind of take that as a motivation and you want to push yourself to be the best player you can be.”
Giroux is now playing on the wing instead of center, which seems to have helped his game.
Philadelphia has received consistent contributions in net this year from both Brian Elliott and former Sabre Michal Neuvirth. Elliott has a save percentage of .912 in 27 games while Neuvirth’s is .915 in eight games. With this being the first game in a back-to-back for Philadelphia, it would not be a surprise if Neuvirth gets the start against Buffalo — most teams have been playing their backup goaltender against the struggling Sabres in recent weeks.
Buffalo is coming off yet another disappointing defeat. On Tuesday, the Sabres lost 3-0 to Boston. It was a lackluster effort from the Sabres, who were down 1-0 for much of the game before surrendering two empty-net goals late.
Sabres head coach Phil Housley has been frustrated by Buffalo’s self-inflicted wounds, which have surfaced yet again following a stretch of decent performances.
“The disappointing thing for me right now is every time we sort of trend in a right direction … we get away from the things we did well,” Housley said. “In the first period (against Boston), you saw the execution was there, the decisions were there, the simple game was there. OK, we didn’t score, but it’s not a time now going into the second period where you change. You’ve got to stick to the game plan and eventually you’ll break through. It just seems that sometimes we’re taking things into our own hands and it just keeps coming back at us.”
Evander Kane leads the Sabres in scoring with 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in 34 games. Robin Lehner has a save percentage of .914 in 26 games.