PHILADELPHIA – One day before the Buffalo Sabres won their 10th consecutive game Nov. 27, the Philadelphia Flyers fired their General Manager, Ron Hextall, after a sluggish start to the season.
The Flyers' former coach, Dave Hakstol, was fired a few weeks later.
Surprisingly, the two teams are now fighting for the same playoff spot. The Sabres (29-25-8) are six points back of the second wild-card playoff spot and one point ahead of the Flyers (29-26-7) entering their game tonight in Wells Fargo Center. Puck drop is 7 p.m.
There are three teams within three points of the Sabres, who have not won back-to-back games since Dec. 11, and lost to Toronto, 5-3, Monday night.
"I think they've got their belief back," coach Phil Housley said Tuesday afternoon. "They've played some very good hockey. They're never out of it. You could see the Stadium Series game [against Pittsburgh], where they found a way to get back into that game."
Here are Five Things to Know about tonight's game:
1. New faces: Brandon Montour, who the Sabres acquired from Anaheim on Sunday, is expected to make his debut tonight.
Additionally, the Flyers' deadline acquisition, Ryan Hartman, will be in their lineup. Hartman, a 24-year-old forward, had 10 goals among 20 points in 64 games with Nashville and is three years removed from a 19-goal season. However, the Flyers were deadline sellers, trading Wayne Simmonds to Nashville in exchange for Hartman and a 2020 conditional fourth-round draft pick.
Hartman will be one of 11 forwards dressed for Philadelphia, which will use seven defensemen against Buffalo.
2. Lineup: Montour will be paired with Marco Scandella and will get an "opportunity" on the power play tonight, Housley told reporters.
Center Casey Mittelstadt will be back in the lineup after missing the past two games because of an illness, while Tage Thompson, Danny O'Regan, Matt Hunwick and Casey Nelson will be healthy scratches.
Housley opted to not make changes to his other two defensive pairs, keeping Rasmus Ristolainen with Jake McCabe and Rasmus Dahlin with Zach Bogosian. Scandella played only 11 minutes, 39 seconds against the Maple Leafs after missing four games with an upper-body injury.
"It's going to be tough because we haven't had practice time, but he'll be paired with Scandy at the start of the game," Housley said of Montour. "Keep Jake and Risto together, and Dahlin and Bogo. I think [Montour] is an excellent puck-moving defenseman who can help with our breakouts. His escapability retrieving pucks is going to help. Hopefully they can create some chemistry together."
The Sabres' forward lines will be shaken up again with Mittelstadt back in the lineup:
#Sabres lines/pairings tonight vs. Toronto include Scandella:
Scratches: Nelson, Mittelstadt
— Lance Lysowski (@LLysowski) February 25, 2019
3. Goalie decision: Carter Hutton will start in goal against the Flyers, despite being pulled in the second period Monday in Toronto. Hutton allowed three goals on 12 shots against the Maple Leafs, however, Housley did not pin the blame on goaltending.
Hutton was also outstanding in his previous two starts, stopping 70 of 73 shots against Tampa Bay and Washington.
"Not really," Housley said when asked if Hutton was responsible for any of those three goals in Toronto. "It was more of a momentum-changer for us. That's one of the reasons why he's getting back in the net."
4. Eichel's run: Jack Eichel was at his best Monday in Toronto, scoring his 20th and 21st goals of the season. The latter cut the deficit to one goal only nine seconds into the third period, extending his point streak to five games.
The 22-year-old captain is on pace for 46 even-strength assists this season. Only five different players have recorded at least 45 even-strength assists since the 2005-06 season: Henrik Sedin (3x), Joe Thornton (3x), Connor McDavid (2x), Evgeni Malkin and Michael Nylander. Pat Lafontaine (52 in 1992-93) is the only player in Sabres franchise history to record at least 45 in a season.
Eichel has 10 points in his 10 career games against Philadelphia, including at least one point (four goals, two assists) in the past four games.
5. By the Numbers: The Sabres have split the season series with Philadelphia after losing two out of three last season. This is their last meeting of the season. ... This is Buffalo's 12th of 16th set of back-to-backs this season and it is 5-4-2 in the second game of those. ... The Sabres are 21-6-6 this season when scoring first, compared to 8-19-2 when their opponent gets the first goal. ... Among 131 players that have taken 300 or more faceoffs this year, the Flyers have three players ranked in the top 10: Claude Giroux (second) Sean Couturier (third) and Scott Laughton (eighth). ... Hutton is 4-0 in his career against Philadelphia, posting a .921 save percentage and a 1.96 goals-against average.