Matt Read's two goals lift Flyers past Sabres
FOR THE FIRST 36 minutes of last night’s game against the lowly Sabres, the October Flyers were skating around the Wells Fargo Center.
Despite having a clearly inferior opponent, the Flyers team that started 1-7 and underachieved its way to 4-10-1 had reappeared. The team that had recently played its way back into the playoff hunt was somewhere else. A little bit south of Saskatoon, maybe.
They were committing too many penalties, trying too many risky passes. When the Sabres scored the first goal, the fans were quiet — which is worse than booing.
But there would be no stick-squeezing this time, no mild panic along the bench. And when Steve Downie fed Matt Read for two goals within 90 seconds midway through the second period, the November Flyers had returned to continue their recent roll by beating Buffalo, 4-1.
An optimist may suggest that this is another step in the growth process under new coach Craig Berube: winning when they don’t play their best.
“That’s the difference between now and what it was a month and a half ago,” Vinny Lecavalier said. “We keep going.”
Sean Couturier, who scored his first goal of the season on Tuesday, contributed to the Read goals by feeding Downie. Read snuck behind the Sabres’ porous defense for his fifth and sixth goals of the season.
“I think the first period we got away from our system. We were playing kind of like pond hockey, we weren’t playing smart, physical hockey like playing with pucks deep and going to work,” Read said. “Downie, Couturier and I talked on the bench saying, ‘Let’s keep it simple, let’s keep getting the pucks deep and go to work and you know things will go our way.’ ”
Downie had his first multipoint game since being acquired from Colorado for Max Talbot on Oct. 31. As colleague Bob Vetrone (@BoopStats) points out, Downie’s teams are 14-2-1 with him in the lineup.
“I don’t take any credit,” Downie said. “One guy doesn’t win a game. It takes a whole team.”
The Flyers fired a season-high 45 shots at Buffalo’s Ryan Miller, and 46 when you count Scott Hartnell’s empty-net goal. On his first shift, Lecavalier had the puck all alone in front of Miller and waited too long to get off a good shot.
“When you play a good goalie like that,” Lecavalier said, “sometimes he makes you think and he did that tonight. But we still kept coming, kept shooting.”
The Flyers had 12 shots in the first period, 19 in the second and 15 in the third. Lecavalier had the other goal with a third-period laser on a power-play.
All the while, Ray Emery held off the Sabres with 29 saves. If Steve Mason wasn’t on such a roll, they Flyers would have themselves a goalie controversy.
Berube still was agitated at some of the careless penalties his team took. He didn’t specifically mention Hartnell’s 4-minute high-stick on Buffalo defenseman Mike Weber, but he didn’t have to.
The Flyers efficiently killed off the Sabres’ advantage and then clamped down defensively, particularly in the second when they allowed just seven shots on goal.
When they seized the 3-1 lead, Berube took Jake Voracek off the top line for Adam Hall, who is better defensively and the team’s best faceoff man.
The Flyers are now 9-10-2 and on the outside of the playoff bubble. But here, a week before Thanksgiving, they have a chance to get to .500 with a win tomorrow over the visiting Islanders. Who would have thought this a month ago?
“It’s all about confidence. I can talk about it myself,” Lecavalier said. “When you’re struggling, not scoring goals, you start squeezing your stick. After getting a few wins, we’re playing with confidence.”