Ted Nolan remembers what it was like to take a young team into Philadelphia.
The Flyers are tough, aggressive and their fans are passionate. It’s not an easy place to play. And back in 1995, during his first stint as the Buffalo Sabres’ head coach, he saw his team reveal its own grit and character in those games.
Nolan hopes to see a bit of that come alive with his current club as the Sabres play in Philadelphia tonight.
“I look back and I think the last time we had this many young kids on our team was 1995 with Jay McKee, Wayne Primeau, Vaclav Varada and Curtis Brown,” Nolan said. “Going into a place like Philly, I was a little bit worried for them at the time, but they showed me what kind of character they really did have. And that was a turning point. We weren’t afraid. We weren’t intimidated. We went down there and competed and all of a sudden we had some rough games with them. I’m hoping this is a similar type of thing. We don’t have to be intimidated. We just have to go down and play.”
A few weeks ago, the Philadelphia faithful were losing patience with their Flyers. The Flyers suffered through their worst start in franchise history (1-7-0) but have rebounded to go 7-3-2 in their last 12 games, including a 5-2 win over Ottawa on Tuesday.
But Nolan isn’t getting too caught up in his opponent’s situation. He’s far more concerned with helping the Sabres figure out themselves.
“Philly’s Philly,” Nolan said. “They’ve had the same type of environment there for years and years and years. I don’t think that’s going to change at all. It’s going to be an aggressive hockey game. We have to be ready but above all, I’m not too concerned with how other teams are playing right now. I’m really concerned with how we have to play. We have to get better defensively. We have to get better moving the puck. We have to get better in a lot of areas.”
Matt Moulson is very familiar with the Flyers, who are in the same division as his former team, the New York Islanders. In 24 career games with the Islanders against the Flyers, he has nine points (four goals, five assists) and is a minus-6.
“They’re always a tough team to play against. The Islanders faced them a lot of times over the last couple of years and they play hard, especially in their own building,” Moulson said. “They have a lot of guys with some pretty good offensive skill and also have guys that play a real gritty game. They’re a tough team to play against.
“It will be good for us to get back to the game we want to play. I think we got away from that last game. I didn’t have much success there in my career in Philly, but it’s good to hear the Sabres did so hopefully we’ll keep that going.”
The Sabres have an all-time 63-75-23 mark against the Flyers and are 4-5-1 in their last 10 meetings. In their last 10 games in Philadelphia, the Sabres are 4-6-0.
Improving communication has been a theme for Nolan since he took over as interim coach last week. If you want players to talk to each other on the ice, it starts with them engaging with each other in the hallways.
“It’s just good old communication. That’s what we have to teach this team,” Nolan said. “We have to get off the iPads and we have to get off texting and we have to say ‘hello’ and ‘how are you’ and ‘good morning’ and ‘I got this guy, you got that guy.’ We’ve got to communicate better.”
Rochester forward Patrick Kaleta is “day-to-day” with a lower body injury, Rochester coach Chadd Cassidy said to reporters before the team’s morning skate at Blue Cross Arena on Wednesday. Cassidy said he is hopeful Kaleta can return to the Amerks lineup this weekend. Rochester hosted the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Wednesday, then faces the Utica Comets on Friday and Saturday.
Tyler Ennis missed practice Wednesday.
“He just tweaked a little something there last night. Nothing serious. He’ll be ready to play tomorrow,” Nolan said.
Correction: A previous version of this story had the Sabres’ all-time record against the Flyers incorrect.