Sabres-Flyers Preview

The Associated Press

A poor stretch has desperation setting in for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Facing a struggling opponent could be just what they need to begin turning things around.

The Flyers attempt to win for just the second time in seven tries by continuing their success against the last-place Buffalo Sabres at Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night.

Philadelphia (31-18-7) was expected to be an obvious contender in the Eastern Conference, but the team is 10 points back of the conference-leading New York Rangers as those lofty expectations appear to be going unmet.

"I'm not ready to paint such a negative picture as everybody else is," coach Peter Laviolette said.

The Flyers may be doing that for him, mired in a 1-4-1 stretch that includes Sunday's 4-3 loss at Detroit after falling 5-2 at home to the Rangers the previous day.

"We have to win the next game," Laviolette told the team's official website. "What the Rangers do or what somebody behind us does that's out of our control. We need to focus on our next game and get on a little bit of a roll here down the stretch."

The Flyers have won four in a row against Buffalo (24-26-6), including the last two of a seven-game playoff series to oust the Sabres from the opening round last year. They've won both meetings this season on the road, including 5-4 in overtime Dec. 7,

This is the first meeting in Philadelphia since the Flyers won 5-2 in Game 7 of their playoff series.

They're hosting back-to-back games, including Saturday's meeting with Atlantic Division-rival Pittsburgh, but they've lost six of eight (2-3-3) as hosts.

An improved effort from Ilya Bryzgalov would surely help. The enigmatic goaltender has missed three games with flu-like symptoms, but is scheduled to start against the Sabres. He's 19-11-6 with a 2.78 goals-against average as he struggles to live up to the $51 million contract he was given after being acquired from Phoenix in the offseason.

Bryzgalov hasn't been given much help recently, compiling a 1.92 GAA while going 1-1-3 in his last six games - five starts. He hasn't been sharp in two season meetings with Buffalo, winning both despite a 2.94 GAA.

Claude Giroux has one goal and four assists versus the Sabres this season after collecting nine points against them in the playoffs. The All-Star center, who leads Philadelphia with 62 points, had four goals and three assists in six games before being blanked by the Red Wings.

The Flyers will be without center Zac Rinaldo, who was suspended two games for launching to hit Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson on Sunday.

While Philadelphia is enduring a disappointing stretch, the Sabres have been dealing with unfulfilled expectations all season. They're at the bottom of the Northeast and ahead of only Carolina in the East.

Scoring has been their biggest problem, falling 4-1 to New Jersey on Tuesday after losing 2-1 to Tampa Bay three days prior.

The Sabres have scored three or more goals in regulation just five times in 20 games. The only consistent line that is producing features captain Jason Pominville, who has four goals and two assists during a five-game scoring streak.

He has three goals and seven assist in his last nine overall meetings with Philadelphia.

"We need pucks to go in for different people," coach Lindy Ruff said.

Thomas Vanek is one of those people. The left wing has one goal over his past 13 games.

Ville Leino will be making his return to Wells Fargo Center after playing parts of two seasons with the Flyers. The left wing had 19 goals and 34 assists with them in 2010-11, and his 21 points in 19 playoff games keyed Philadelphia's run to the 2010 Stanley Cup finals.

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