The struggling Philadelphia Flyers hope the return of Ilya Bryzgalov can help them avoid their sixth loss in seven games, as they get set to host the Buffalo Sabres in tonight's clash at Wells Fargo Center.
The Flyers are just 1-4-1 over their last six games and have played the last three without Bryzgalov as the starter. The Russian backstop has recovered from his flu-like symptoms and was able to suit up as Sergei Bobrovsky's backup in Sunday's 4-3 road loss in Detroit, but tonight is expected to be his first start since posting a shutout in a 1-0 shootout loss to the New York Islanders on Feb. 7.
While Bobrovsky has been torched for 18 goals in his last four starts, Philadelphia's problems right now go beyond the crease. Special teams has been a major issue for the Flyers, who are just 2-for-26 on the power play in the last six games while allowing the opposition to score nine times on 32 chances with the man advantage over the same stretch.
The Flyers will likely be down a few forwards tonight. Zac Rinaldo will serve the first part of a two-game suspension for a hit Sunday against Detroit's Jonathan Ericsson. Czech forwards Jaromir Jagr (flu-like symptoms) and Jakub Voracek (upper body) are also questionable for tonight. Voracek sat out Sunday's test, while Jagr, who turned 40 years old on Wednesday, missed practice on his birthday. Defenseman Andrej Meszaros is also questionable with an upper-body injury.
Another injured Philadelphia forward, James van Riemsdyk, has been out since Jan. 12 with a concussion and there is still no word on his return.
Meanwhile, ex-Flyers forward Ville Leino will return to Philadelphia tonight for the first time since he signed a six-year, $27 million deal with Buffalo in the summer. Leino had 83 points in 124 games (playoffs included) for Philadelphia over the previous two seasons, but the Finn has disappointed this year with just four goals and 11 assists in 45 games for the Sabres.
Leino has one goal in two encounters against the Flyers this season, but both were in Buffalo. Philadelphia won both of those meetings and has taken four of six overall in this series. The Sabres have won three of their last four regular-season tilts at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Flyers are tied with Pittsburgh for second place in the Atlantic Division and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia failed to help its playoff standing this past weekend when it lost regulation tilts to the New York Rangers and Red Wings.
Brayden Schenn had two goals for Philadelphia in its 4-3 setback in Detroit, while Max Talbot recorded the Flyers' other goal. Bobrovsky gave up four goals on 25 shots.
"We have to find ways to win [close] games," said Schenn, who has four of his eight goals this season over his last five contests.
Philadelphia is kicking off a two-game homestand tonight and the club is just 13-9-5 as the host this year compared to a superior 18-9-2 road mark. The Flyers will end the brief residency on Saturday afternoon against Pittsburgh.
Buffalo can't afford to go on many slumps if it wants to make the playoffs and losing its last two tilts in regulation did not help its cause. With 54 points, the Sabres are still 10 behind Toronto for the eighth and final postseason berth in the East.
The Sabres scored a total of two goals over their two-game slide, which came directly on the heels of a three-game winning streak. Buffalo's most recent setback came in the finale of a four-game homestand on Tuesday, as the visiting New Jersey Devils scored three times in the third period en route to a 4-1 victory.
Jason Pominville, who is on a five-game point streak, scored the only goal for the Sabres on Tuesday, while Ryan Miller was tagged for three goals on 30 shots in the loss. New Jersey went 2-for-7 on the power play.
"We had to defend a lot out there tonight," said Miller. "We had to kill a bunch of penalties and we did a good job of that. I thought we played a good game out there, just came up short."
Buffalo is out on the road for just one game before returning to western New York for another four-game homestand. The Sabres are 11-15-0 on the road this year and 13-11-6 as the host.
On the injury front for Buffalo, Cody McCormick has sat out the last two games with an upper-body injury and is questionable for tonight's game.