A lot has changed since we last saw the Philadelphia Flyers in Buffalo. Not only has the arena name since changed, but the Flyers’ overtime villain in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals is now wearing blue and gold. But don’t let Ville Leino
’s stone-faced expression fool you: he doesn’t want to see his old employers leave First Niagara Center with two points on Wednesday night.
“I think it’s going to give me an extra boost,” said Leino, who will be centering Buffalo’s top line between Thomas Vanek
and Jason Pominville
for the first time this season. “You want to show against your old team that you’re a good player, and you want to play good against the guys you know and the whole organization.”
Leino’s departure for Buffalo as a free agent was just a small part of Philadelphia’s extreme makeover: offseason edition. The Flyers jettisoned veterans Mike Richards (LA) and Jeff Carter (Columbus) in a pair of trades, and acquired netminder Ilya Bryzgalov from Phoenix in an attempt to put an end to the team’s goaltending carousel. Oh yeah, they also signed some free agent by the name of Jaromir Jagr. The name may ring a bell.
Has it helped? The Flyers come into Buffalo with a 6-4-1 record, having lost two of their last three games -- highlighted by a wacky 9-8 loss to Winnipeg last Thursday. Jagr is second in team scoring with 11 points in 11 games, including seven (5+2) in his last four. Byrzgalov is a very ordinary 4-4-1 with a 3.16 GAA and .880 save percentage, and made headlines with his candid post-game comments to the Philadelphia media after allowing four goals on 10 shots against Winnipeg.
But the common denominator to the Flyers’ struggles as of late could simply be the absence of rugged blueliner Chris Pronger, who suffered a scary injury last week when he was struck in the right eye by the stick of Toronto’s Mikhail Grabovski. Pronger dropped to the ice immediately and could clearly be heard screaming as he was rushed off the ice. There was no long-term damage done to the eye, but Pronger has yet to resume skating. He was placed on injured reserve earlier today.
|Chris Pronger (Getty Images) |
Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff knows what a player like Pronger means to the Flyers entire lineup.
“He’s a big piece for them. They were going good when he was in there, and they’ve struggled a little bit with him out. He’s been a good player in this league and I think they miss him. I’ve seen the goals go up when he’s out, and I’ve seen the goals go down when he’s in.
Ruff has obviously done his homework on this. The Flyers are 4-2-1 with Pronger in the lineup this season, and 1-2-0 since he’s been injured. They averaged 3.85 goals for in the first seven games, while allowing just an average of 3. Those numbers jump dramatically in the last three games -- 4.67 GF/5 GA -- but they are skewed by the loss to Winnipeg.
Much of today’s practice was spent working on the power play, including Derek Roy
manning the point on the first unit in Marc-Andre Gragnani
’s usual spot.
“We used the same three up front. Derek was back there for a period of time last year so we’ll see what he can do.”
With Gragnani being moved off the power play, Ruff wouldn’t tip has hand as to whether this would see Mike Weber
inserted into the Sabres lineup tomorrow for his first game action of the season.