PHILADELPHIA — The Buffalo Sabres are 14th in the Eastern Conference and 29th overall in the 30-team NHL, so they have nothing to lose by trying new things. For starters, they have an interim head coach in Ron Rolston and he has shown no qualms about changing his personnel.
In particular, Rolston will likely scratch veteran Jochen Hecht for the second straight game tonight when the Sabres meet the Flyers in Wells Fargo Center. Then he hopes to see his newest forward line continue to control play when it’s in the offensive zone.
Rolston has paired two recent Rochester call-ups, center Kevin Porter and winger Brian Flynn, with pre-lockout Amerk Marcus Foligno and the trio has given the Sabres plenty of time with the puck in scoring range.
Foligno spent time in Rochester playing with Flynn and Cody Hodgson. Porter played mostly with Mark Mancari. The three never played together in the AHL but Rolston liked their dynamics when he started tinkering with combinations here.
“They’ve been one of our better lines,” Rolston said Saturday after the Sabres’ practice in Riverside Rink. “They’ve got a good combination of speed and Marcus plays big, so we have some size. Hopefully that will continue.”
“We’re creating some energy, getting into the offensive zone and getting a good forecheck,” Porter said. “That’s what our line needs to do. Keep it simple, not make any mistakes. We’re all pretty good skaters who can handle pucks.”
Flynn had several good scoring chances Tuesday in Carolina and had even more Thursday in New Jersey. He finally broke through for his first NHL goal to give the Sabres their short-lived 2-0 lead in the third period of their 3-2 shootout loss to the Devils.
“I was getting a lot of shots on goal,” Flynn said. “I thought our line was generating some pretty good chances. It definitely felt good to get the first one out of the way there.”
“I thought someone on our line was going to get one,” Porter said. “I knew it was coming sooner rather than later. It was great to see him get his first goal. That’s always pretty exciting.”
Flynn was pumped to give the Sabres a two-goal lead on the road but he said the luster of his first goal definitely dropped with the way the team collapsed. Still, he’s happy his comfort level is increasing during his first trip to the NHL.
“The game is starting to slow down a little bit,” said Flynn, a free-agent signee last year out of the University of Maine. “The first two games things were happening obviously faster than I was used to. I wasn’t making the pretty plays I think I’m capable of but hopefully now I can make more.”
“When you step into a new team, it’s always going to take a little bit,” Foligno said. “Now he’s making plays, hanging on to the puck more and that’s when he’s most dangerous.”
Porter has no points in his eight games but has averaged 15 minutes, 22 seconds of ice time and given the Sabres a two-way presence at center. Flynn is averaging 12:33 in his four games and the goal is his lone point.
Foligno is still trying to make his mark in the stats, as he has just one goal and a minus-7 rating in 24 games in Buffalo. But the numbers are bound to increase if the line plays as it has the last two games.
“This line has been good for me,” Foligno said. “They’re both fast players and smart, heads-up guys. It’s been easy for me.
“We’re not gonna make the prettiest plays but we’ll get the puck deep,” Porter said. “Marcus is good in the corners and Flynn and I are skating pretty well. We’re beating their ‘D’ to pucks, cycling really well. We have some chemistry going.”
There’s a chance defenseman Andrej Sekera, injured late in the third period Thursday night and ruled out by Rolston after practice Friday, could be ready to play tonight. Sekera started practice Saturday on a regular pair with Robyn Regehr and then was sent off the ice when the team started one-on-one battle drills.
That likely means he won’t play until Tuesday’s visit from the New York Rangers, although Rolston said he’s encouraged by Sekera’s progress and wouldn’t totally rule him out for tonight.
“We’ll see how he’s feeling,” Rolston said. “I like the way he’s moving. We just wanted to keep him out of battle stuff.”
Adam Pardy, a scratch the last two games, was on a pairing with Mike Weber on Saturday. He could return in place of T.J. Brennan.
The Sabres probably can’t get the new HarborCenter project up and running fast enough after struggling to find ice in town the last two days. They were at Cazenovia Rink on Friday and followed that with the trip to Riverside — two places in which they have not practiced in years.
First Niagara Center has been unavailable due to a Rihanna concert and a Bandits game, and a youth tournament has made the Northtown Center at Amherst, their normal alternate site, also a no-go. The Buffalo State Ice Arena, another previous option, was occupied by the Canisius College-Bentley playoff series.