Flyers edge Sabres for fifth straight victory
PHILADELPHIA — During their 10-game losing streak last month, the Philadelphia Flyers couldn’t find a way to win a one-goal game, losing six of them during that stretch.
The Flyers (13-11-7) have been far more decisive in close games since and Thursday night, they won for the fifth straight time, carving out a 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres.
“I think it was a boring game,” said Flyers right winger Jakub Voracek, who set up Valtteri Filppula’s game-winning goal late in the second period. “It wasn’t fun to watch.”
Defenseman Travis Sanheim netted his first NHL goal and goaltender Brian Elliott turned aside 19 shots to improve his career record against Buffalo to 12-1-2.
Ryan O’Reilly scored the only goal for the Sabres, who saw their modest four-game points streak (2-0-2) come to an end. Goaltender Robin Lehner made 25 saves for Buffalo (8-18-6), which has the NHL’s second-worst record behind Arizona.
The Sabres have scored one or fewer goals in 12 of their 32 games this season and rank last in the NHL with 68 goals in 32 games (2.1 per game).
“We’ve got to find a way to find the back of the net more,” said Sabres center Jack Eichel, who was held without a shot for only the second time this season and was held without a point for the 13th time. “We had our chances. I don’t think our execution was where it should be.”
Elliott was a big reason the Sabres didn’t have more Thursday night. After a rocky start, he made several key saves in the third period, including two stops on Evander Kane.
The Flyers entered the third period with a 2-1 lead, thanks to Filppula’s eighth goal of the season with 2:33 remaining in the second. The 33-year-old veteran took a nice feed from Voracek and roofed a shot over Lehner. It was only the fourth goal in the last 25 games for Filppula, who started the season with four in his first seven contests.
It was also the 31st assist of the season for Voracek, who is among the league leaders in that category.
“It was a nice pass,” Filppula said. “Jake made a good play to me and I was happy to see it go in.”
Elliott had trouble handling the puck in the opening period. His clearing attempt from behind the net was intercepted by Zemgus Girgensons, who quickly fed O’Reilly for an open netter. It was O’Reilly’s eighth goal of the season and first in 13 games.
A few minutes later Elliott again gave the puck away, this time to Sam Reinhart, whose open-net attempt kicked off the skate of Flyers center Nolan Patrick.
“They came hard and there was a little miscommunication,” said Elliott, who benefited from 19 blocked shots, including five from Andrew MacDonald. “A bad play on my part. That can go sideways in a hurry, but we sorted it out.”
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol agreed, saying his team might have had trouble handling an early goal against the way they did Thursday.
“It is different now,” Hakstol said. “You can take a punch a little better when you have a little swagger to your game.”
Immediately after Patrick’s skate save on Reinhart, the Flyers quickly broke down the ice and Sanheim snapped a shot over the right shoulder of Lehner for his first NHL goal in his 28th NHL game.
“Obviously, it was a long time coming, but it’s exciting to get my first one,” Sanheim said.
Lehner was upset about the goal after the game, calling it “unfortunate.”
“I kind of slipped on their first goal and lost my balance,” Lehner said. “Now we’ve got to go back home and win tomorrow.”
NOTES: Sabres D Rasmus Ristolainen entered the game leading Buffalo in average ice time (27:07), hits (68) and blocked shots (44). Only Minnesota Wild D Ryan Suter has averaged more ice time per game (27:23). ... The Sabres return home to face the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday, the Boston Bruins on Tuesday and the Flyers on Dec. 22. ... LW Michael Raffl played in his 300th NHL game, all as a Flyer. ... Philadelphia continues its five-game homestand Saturday night against the Dallas Stars. They’ll face the Los Angeles Kings on Monday and the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday before a four-game road trip.