(photo credit: Frank Fimmano)
R. J. Umberger.
The much maligned winger broke year-plus long goalless drought as the Philadelphia Flyers romped the Buffalo Sabres 4-0 thanks in part to a four spot in the second period to bounce back after a couple tough losses against the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals.
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol shook up the lineup when he scratched Matt Read and Scott Laughton for Umberger and recently acquired Jordan Weal prior to puck drop. Questioned by many, Hackstol wound up hitting the payoff in the end with strong play by both fill-ins.
The first period opened up with some sloppy and very effortless play from the Flyers as undisciplined mistakes piled up. Mark Streit was called for back-to-back interference calls, including taking the second while coming out of the penalty box.
Despite some uninspired play in front of him, Steve Mason came up large to keep the game scoreless, turning away 14 Buffalo shots, including one stretch where Sabres forward Justin Bailey had four on the same sequence in front of the netminder.
Opening the second frame again on the penalty kill, the Flyers were able to hold off the Sabres powerplay unit when Umberger was finally able to light the lamp for the first time since January 27, 2015 on a beautiful pass from Sam Gagner. Umberger lifted both arms straight up and looked toward to the heavens as he finally was able to snap this drought. Just 48 seconds later, the Flyers had made the score 2-0 when Brayden Schenn snapped home a one-timer from the slot.
The goalercoaster ride continued for the Orange and Black when Wayne Simmonds was able to snipe one just under the arm of Robin Lehner extending the lead. Shayne Gostisbehere was given the primary assist to extend his NHL-best 10 game scoring streak, the longest ever among rookies in team history. The Flyers would go into the intermission with a 4-0 lead after Michael Raffl potted home his 7th season to close out one of the best periods of the season for the Flyers.
Nick Cousins would follow up a Sabres tally with his first career NHL goal after stealing the puck near center ice and blasting home a slapshot on the break to put the game on ice for the Flyers.
Mason was phenomenal in goal, making 41 saves on the evening and giving up one lone score in the third. He was a big reason that the Sabres came up empty handed on the power play, going 0-6, including two times that went against tired penalty killers.
The Flyers look to make the tough climb up the standings as they welcome the rival New Jersey Devils to town on Saturday.
As noted above, Dave Hakstol made a bold lineup call when he swapped out Matt Read and Scott Laughton for RJ Umberger and Jordan Weal. Umberger was among the Flyers leaders in possession for the evening, despite the entire team finishing in the red (score effects, y’all). Weal played nearly 15 minutes, saw time on the team’s power play and finished 66.% in faceoffs. Overall a good night for guys who saw the pine just a few days ago .
Nick Cousins was given a huge opportunity when Sean Couturier went down with an injury to make an impact for himself. Tonight, he surely did that, finishing with two points and his first NHL goal while centering the second line between Schenn and Raffl. Nice to see the Phantoms regular step-up huge especially when the team has looked so out of sorts with Coots missing in the lineup.
Do-Or-Die Stretch Coming Up
The Flyers have already embarked on what will be one of their busiest months in team history, and now the real fun begins as tonight began a 10 game stretch in 18 days for a team clawing onto playoff hopes. They will play six games against five teams currently in playoff position and this stretch also includes a five-game road trip as well. Brutal for a team that is shorthanded as it is with some injury and consistency issues. They likely need 14-15 points in order to have a real chance at securing a wildcard spot come April.