Flyers Clash with Sabres

The Matchup:

Philadelphia Flyers (0-1-0) vs. Buffalo Sabres (0-0-0)
First Niagara Center — Buffalo, NY
12:30 p.m. on NBC

Setting the Stage:

Sunday's game will be the home opener for the Buffalo Sabres, who went through a complete identity overhaul over the extended offseason. Lindy Ruff, now in his 15th season as the bench boss of the Sabres, will showcase a grittier lineup that features some promising young pieces and some character free agent signings.

The Flyers are coming off of their home opener, a 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The tweaked Flyers team didn't set their best foot forward in the debacle. Newly minted captain Claude Giroux picked up his first goal of the year, but ultimately took a late tripping penalty to seal his team's fate.

What to Expect:

With the lockout venturing into the middle of January, the Buffalo Sabres will be playing their first game since failing to make the playoffs in April. Five Sabres played overseas in international competition, including some of their key players, such as Thomas Vanek, Tyler Myers and Tyler Ennis. 

It may be a small sample size, but it appears that players that played during the lockout have a slight advantage of being in game shape.

This factor notwithstanding, expect a physical, tenacious affair. The Sabres added sandpaper with former Dallas Star Steve Ott, and they possess perhaps the greatest pest in the league in Patrick Kaleta. Don't forget about the monstrous defenseman Myers who isn't afraid to throw all 227 pounds of himself around. It could get nasty in Sunday afternoon's affair.

The Flyers will need to vastly improve on their faceoff play. Giroux (53%), Sean Couturier (43%) and Scott Laughton (33%) all struggled in the faceoff dot against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Two faceoff losses directly resulted in two Penguin goals by Tyler Kennedy and James Neal.

The Orange and Black will either have an advantage or a disadvantage from playing the day before. Will they be one step closer to playing a smoother brand of hockey, or will they be too tired from yesterday's loss to keep up with the Sabres' fresh legs? 

The Masked Men:

It seems fairly obvious who the Sabres will start. Ryan Miller (31-21-7) will likely get the nod. Miller continues to be one of the premier talents in the NHL at his position. Players need to make their shots count against the tall, lanky netminder.

Thankfully, the Flyers have had Miller's number recently. They swept the Sabres in the season series last year, including a 7-2 imbroglio leading to Miller being pulled from the game in favor of backup Jhonas Enroth. Not to mention, the 2011 Flyers defeated the Sabres in the first round of the playoffs.

Typically in back-to-back games, it's always a tossup as to who starts. The Flyers have said publicly that they want to provide a bulk of the starts to beleaguered starter Ilya Bryzgalov (0-1-0). However, it would not be outlandish to see backup Michael Leighton get the start either.

It will likely be Bryzgalov getting the nod from coach Peter Laviolette. "Bryz" played well in the season opener, stopping 24 of 26 shots against a high octane Pittsburgh offense.

Keys to the Game:

1. Stay out of the penalty box. The Sabres will bring pestilence to the lineup with Ott, Kaleta, Marcus Foligno and John Scott. This won't be an easy game to get through. Cooler heads will prevail in every scrum. The Flyers should know this after their playoff series win against Pittsburgh last Spring.

2. Get physical. Buffalo's top forwards are a smaller bunch. Philadelphia's larger defense should not have too much trouble with them. Shutting them down with physical play should get the job done.

3. Score on the power play. Scott Hartnell said it after the game. They went 0-for-4 on the PP in game one. They need to be better with their special teams. Even one power play goal will make a big difference.