PHILADELPHIA – With Oskar Lindblom out of the lineup, Flyers coach Alain Vigneault knows he needs a proven scorer to fill the void.
Leading candidate James van Riemsdyk showed why he might be the best candidate to step into the breach in Thursday night’s 6-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres at the Wells Fargo Center.
Mired in a slump for much of the season, van Riemsdyk scored a pair of goals, giving him four in his last four games and now a total of 10 for the season.
The Flyers scored a season-high three power-play goals to overwhelm the Sabres, who were playing without leading scorer Jack Eichel (a late pre-game scratch).
For van Riemsdyk, it was just a matter of sticking to the process through a lengthy dry spell.
Now he’s being asked to help cover for the absence of Lindblom, who is battling a disease called Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.
“I think he (JVR) is skating much better,’’ coach Alain Vigneault said. “At least it looks that way to me. He’s got good pace, good stride. He’s playing hard and all his goals are scored from the same area, by the net.
“Some of those that weren’t going in in the beginning are going in right now. We need him to continue. I need him to play well with the loss of Oskar as we all know on the left side. We need him (JVR) to step up and play important minutes. And that’s what he’s doing for us right now.’’
The first goal scored by van Riemsdyk was a big play in the game.
Van Riemsdyk scored at 15:32 of the first period. Buffalo challenged the goal and lost. On the ensuing Flyers power play, Matt Niskanen scored to make it 3-0.
“That (JVR goal) was what we expect from him,’’ Vigneault said. “And that’s what we need from him.’’
Of coping with his scoring slump, van Riemsdyk said: “It’s having a good mindset. Sometimes you can deal with some frustration and cliché as it is, just focus on having a good approach every single day.
“It’s funny, I think both my goals weren’t even shots on net. Just funny how things go.’’
Van Riemsdyk now has 10 points in his last 11 games.
Goaltender Carter Hart lost his shutout bid in the third period but the Flyers moved to 12—2-4 on home ice this season.
Kevin Hayes was the star of the first 20 minutes.
With the Flyers already up 1-0 on a Mikhail Vorobyev goal, Hayes executed a highlight-reel backhand pass to van Riemsdyk in front for a tap-in goal past Carter Hutton at 15:32.
Then, with the Flyers on the power play, Hayes deked his way past two defenders and deftly dished to Matt Niskanen in the right circle for an easy dunk shot over the sprawled Hutton.
“He (Hayes) really did it all on that play,’’ Niskanen said. “He found the loose puck, good deception, he finds me across the ice and he’s coming down the slot, he takes a guy out and he passes the puck across the ice to me. I just didn’t want to screw it up.”
It was more of the same in the second period as the Flyers put two more power-play markers on the board.
Ivan Provorov started the parade with a goal on the Flyers’ man advantage at 8:20. Tyler Pitlick made it 5-0 at 9:22 when he stole a puck off Henri Jokiharju, then van Riemsdyk finished off a feed from Travis Konecny at 12:27.
Can the Flyers get some confidence on the power play moving forward after a game like this?
“I think our power play (ranked 19th in the NHL) still has a ton of room to get better,’’ JVR said. “We’re scoring some goals off the rush but as the year goes by we have to get some goals off our set-up like we did tonight.’’
Added Provorov: “It was definitely nice to get some power-play goals. We couldn’t put the puck in the net for awhile. Last game we had some chances and couldn’t score. Tonight it was good to get rewarded.
Konecny finished the game with three assists.
TK is a key figure on the power play. He sees some improvement.
“We tried to keep it simple tonight,’’ Konecny said. “Provy’s goal was big. Just a simple play, get the puck to the net and have five guys outwork four guys. You can definitely build off that. If you can build off that, just keep it going.’’
Hayes likes the way the Flyers have continued to work at the power play.
“I thought the last couple games our power play has been pretty good actually,’’ he said. “We haven’t had results but we had some Grade A chances. It was just a matter of time. We went through a stretch where we were kind of brutal. Hopefully this is the springboard into good things.’’