Solid goaltending and all-around team consistency helped the Flyers down the Buffalo Sabres last night in a 3-1 preseason win. After going scoreless in the first period, the Flyers started the second on the powerplay, an area of the game that could use polish but looked strong. The powerplay became a 5-on-3 thanks to a high-sticking penalty on Flyer Nikolay Zherdev from Sabre Drew Stafford. Zherdev eventually scored a backdoor goal with assists from Claude Giroux and defenseman Kimmo Timonen. A roughing penalty by Sabre Shaone Morrisonn against Mike Richards led to another powerplay, which sophomore forward James VanRiemsdyk was able to bank in off a rebound shot from defenseman Matt Carle.
The Flyers came out flat-footed in the third period, which became all the more obvious when Sabre Derek Roy scored 00:17 into the third. This is a problem that plagued the team last year, and coach Peter Laviolette will need them to be better prepared when the regular season kicks off. The Flyers were able to hold off increased pressure from the Sabres and Blair Betts was able to pot an empty netter to seal the deal.
The story of the game was back-up goaltender Brian Boucher, who has advanced to the starting position while goaltender Michael Leighton is out of the line-up with a lower back injury. Boosh was positionally sound the entire game, rarely giving up rebounds or second chances to the Sabres. His play on the puck is a little too risky, but he never let any turnovers turn into goals.
It may be misguided optimism on my part, but I think Boosh is going to have a career year. He’s not a goaltender that will steal a game for your team in the way that we’re used to seeing from guys like Pittsburgh Penguin Marc-Andre Fleury, but he does all of the little things right. The real question mark is if he could handle the starting position for a whole season, as he hasn’t done it before. After the game, Boosh told reporters, “I think I can do a job for this team, I think I proved it last year… whatever they decide, I’ll accept my role and work hard.” There was a real sense in his voice that he knows what he’s capable of, both in terms of consistency and limitations.
Zherdev had a very balanced game, as his slick puck-handling and goal-scoring were offset by slow skating when the team needed him to provide defensive support and the occasional odd antics, like when pushing and shoving with Sabre Nathan Gerbe led to Zherdev putting him in a headlock and slamming him onto the ice.
Dan Carcillo seemed to get some heat from the media after the game, but aside from two lazy tripping penalties, there wasn’t too much to complain about. He didn’t have a particularly productive game, but he wasn’t the hotheaded liability we’ve come to expect. When Richards was roughed up by Morrisonn, Carcillo immediately came to his side to back him up, but felt out the situation first before reacting. He was a controlled agitator, and if he can hone his offensive skills while working to keep the penalties down, he will do just fine.
Darroll Powe is a lock to make the team with penalty-killing specialist Ian Laperriere out indefinitely with post-concussion syndrome. Powe didn’t see much even strength time, but laid out the Sabres when he was on the ice. During the second period, Powe looked like he just wanted Sabre Steve Montador to have a bad day, as he hammered two consecutive hits on the defenseman.
On defense, prospect Erik Gustafsson was on the top pairing with Timonen. Gustafsson was decent, but looked nervous from time to time. Gustafsson is expected to be sent back to the Phantoms, but has certainly earned himself a call-up if need be. Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn had very consistent outings, while Andrej Meszaros and Sean O’Donnell were sufficient. Meszaros still looks like he needs time to learn Laviolette’s system while O’Donnell only concerns me on the powerplay, where he was chippy against the Sabres but missed men right behind him in the crease several times.
The Flyers will play their final preseason game on Sunday, also against the Buffalo Sabres.