BOSTON — Guys competing for jobs in the NHL should be willing to do anything. Brian Flynn has a future because he does, in fact, do almost anything.
Injuries have been an opportunity for the Buffalo Sabres forward. He’s played center and both wings, skated on all four lines, killed penalties and appeared on the power play. The Massachusetts native will do a bunch of those again today when the Sabres play their final road game in Boston.
“I got a lot of experience this year, and being versatile maybe helps you stay in the league a little longer,” Flynn said. “Obviously, I will play whatever position I have to play to be in the lineup.”
Flynn centered the third line for wingers Cory Conacher and Torrey Mitchell on Thursday in New York. The Sabres took Friday off, so it’s unclear where he’ll be for the 12:30 p.m. start in TD Garden. Wherever it is, coach Ted Nolan will be comfortable.
“The one thing about Flynn is he’s very versatile,” Nolan said. “He never complains. You put him on a first line, his demeanor doesn’t change. You put him on a fourth line, it doesn’t change. He just wants to play. If you have people like that who just want to play, it makes the job a lot easier. He’s one of those guys that you like to have around for sure.”
Flynn, who turns 26 in July, has one season left on his two-year deal. It becomes a one-way NHL contract that pays $650,000. The threat of the minors will be diminished, not that a demotion was cause for concern anyway. Though his offensive stats have been disappointing – he has six goals and 13 points in 78 games after putting up six goals and 11 points in 26 games last year – fellow Sabres have seen improvement.
“You see growth,” said veteran forward Matt Ellis. “He’s really added some layers to his game. He’s doing what they want him to do, and he’s becoming a consistent performer no matter if he’s in a top-end role or his minutes are reduced and he’s playing more of a checking role.
“There’s been that growth there, and I think that’s the important thing for our younger players to continue to grow, continue to develop good habits and turn into good professionals.”
Flynn’s biggest jump lately has been on the penalty kill. He’s become one of Buffalo’s top forwards on a unit that’s killed 16 of 18 in the last five games. The Sabres went 4 for 4 against the Rangers, and Flynn was on the ice for a team-high 4:34.
“That’s going to be big for me moving forward in the future, skate well and do a good job on the penalty kill because such a big part of the game is special teams,” Flynn said. “It wins or loses you every game pretty much because you’re playing so many one-goal games. It’s the difference most nights.”
Flynn’s best penalty-kill moment Thursday came late in the second period. Rangers forward Dominic Moore was manning the point in the middle of the blue line, and Flynn blocked back-to-back shots. Flynn finished with three blocks, second to Mike Weber’s six, as the Sabres got in the way of 21 attempts by the Rangers.
“Obviously, jumping in front of shots, I don’t know anyone who likes doing that,” Flynn said. “When you’re doing a lot of penalty kills and you’re in a good rhythm with some guys and you’re killing with the same guy all the time and you’re getting a good feel for each other, it’s pretty fun.”
Said Weber: “We’ve done a good job of getting in lanes. Flynny came up huge with two or three in a row on the penalty kill in the second period. Everyone gets involved, and that’s what you like to see.”
Flynn’s biggest adjustment has been a move to center. The longtime right winger has lost 53 percent of his 383 faceoffs, but the movement after the puck drops has been a tougher challenge.
“I think my game is just forechecking and trying to cause turnovers for my linemates,” he said. “At center it’s been tougher for me to get in on the forecheck. I’m behind the play a little more, and you’ve obviously got to be a little more aware defensively.”
Flynn figures to be a factor during the Sabres’ penultimate game. He has two goals, four points and a plus-5 rating during the four outings against his home-state Bruins this season.
The Sabres’ goalie wheel has finally landed on Connor Knapp. Not only will he dress for an NHL game for the first time, he’ll also put Buffalo in the record book.
Knapp, selected in the sixth round of the 2009 draft, was called up Friday to back up Matt Hackett this afternoon. When Knapp appears on the lineup sheet, he’ll become the ninth netminder to dress for Buffalo this season. That will be an NHL record, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Ryan Miller, Jhonas Enroth, Ryan Vinz, Jaroslav Halak, Michal Neuvirth, Nathan Lieuwen, Hackett and Andrey Makarov have also taken a spot in the Sabres’ crease or on the bench. Makarov backed up Hackett during the previous two games, but the organization wanted him to play in Rochester this weekend as the Amerks attempt to earn a playoff spot.
Knapp, 23, has played for four teams this season: Greenville, Florida and Alaska of the ECHL, plus the Amerks. He made two starts for Rochester, losing both while putting up a 4.03 goals-against average and .873 save percentage. Knapp played for the Boston Junior Bruins in 2007-08.