Two nights after a tough 5-4 loss in Philadelphia, the Buffalo Sabres will be taking the ice at the HSBC Arena, looking to take a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Here are four keys to victory for tonight’s game in Buffalo:
– The Sabres must play better defensive hockey.
Sabres’ goaltender Ryan Miller has faced 69 shots in two games, compared to the Flyers’ goaltenders, Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher, who have faced a combined 53 shots in two games.
Throughout most of the first two matchups between the aforementioned teams, the Flyers have often dominated the Sabres zone. This has lead to some bad decision making, whether it be a turnover or a penalty. The issue here is that the bad decision making not only wears down the Sabres defenders but it also wears down Ryan Miller.
– Buffalo must cut down on the penalties.
In two games, the Sabres have taken 19 penalties. If they continue to put themselves in the penalty box that often in Game 3, they will definitely be fighting an uphill battle. The reason for that is simple. Thomas Vanek, who leads the Sabres with two goals in this series, played only 13:28 in the first game and 16:48 in the second game.
Again you may be asking why that matters but the explanation, as I said, was simple. The more the Sabres are on the penalty kill, the less ice time that Thomas Vanek, and other goal scorers, may see. Players like Vanek, and Tyler Ennis, do not play on the penalty kill. That being said, less Vanek ice time could turn into less opportunities to get the offense going.
– The Sabres need to take advantage of the Flyers goaltending issue.
Once considered a strength for Philadelphia during the season, the goaltending position has become a hot button issue, after only two games. In Game 2, Flyers starting goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was replaced in net after allowing three goals on seven shots, only 12:30 into the game.
Backup goaltender Brian Boucher came in and was stellar for the Flyers, only allowing one goal on 21 shots. The rumor around the HSBC Arena is that Boucher will start for the Flyers on Monday night but whoever is in goal for the Flyers, it should not matter to Buffalo. The Sabres need to come out and put continuous pressure on the Flyers goaltender by getting him uncomfortable and putting shots on net at a frequent pace.
– Where in the arena is Brad Boyes?
Before Game One of this series, many fans and hockey experts alike have said that Sabres forward Brad Boyes would be one of the keys to a Sabres “upset” of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Through two games, Boyes has zero points and only two shots. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that these first two games against the Flyers were his fifth and sixth career playoff games, respectively, but Boyes needs to ramp up his offensive play.
I understand that Vanek and Kaleta, among others, have essentially picked up his slack but hockey is a team game. If Boyes does his part, and starts helping out offensively, the series’ momentum could greatly shift in Buffalo’s favor.
Now that I’ve given you my four keys to victory for the Buffalo Sabres in Game three, what are yours? Be sure to leave a comment below and let me know what you believe is the most important key to tonight’s game.