BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Brian Elliott stopped 23 shots to shut out the Buffalo Sabres for a second time this season in leading the Philadelphia Flyers to a 3-0 win on Saturday.
The Flyers were spurred by a replenished lineup in which four players returned after spending two weeks in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. They included Scott Laughton, who scored a breakaway goal to make it 3-0 late in the second period.
Sean Couturier had a goal and assist to extend his points streak to five games, in which he has four goals and five assists, and Shayne Gostisbehere also scored. Philadelphia improved to 3-2-2 in its past seven, and won consecutive games for the first time since a five-game winning streak to close January.
Elliott improved to 5-1 this season and upped his career record to 15-2-2 with four shutouts against the Sabres, including a 40-save outing in a 3-0 win on Jan. 19.
Elliott chalked up his dominance to opening his career with Ottawa, Buffalo’s traditional Atlantic Division rival.
“I have a good feeling obviously when I come in this rink. I wanted to keep that going,” said the 14th-year player now in his fourth season in Philadelphia.
He also noted the jump the Flyers showed in having a near fully healthy lineup.
“You could feel the energy in the room the last couple of practices here. Everybody’s raring to go,” Elliott said. “It was a lot of tic-tac-toe plays, guys were really wanting the puck out there. That’s good to see from my end.”
Sabres coach Ralph Krueger noticed the difference in both teams.
“You can see that pretty well through the night they just had a higher level of energy in battles, and we weren’t able to defend the way we wanted to,” said Krueger, whose Sabres were playing their fourth game in six days. “The heart seems to be in the right place but the energy just isn’t there to match that.”
The Sabres dropped to 2-6-1 in their past nine and played their second game without captain Jack Eichel, listed as day to day with a lower body injury.
Carter Hutton stopped 36 shots starting in place of Linus Ullmark, who will miss at least a month with a lower-body injury sustained in the first period of a 4-3 overtime loss to New Jersey on Thursday.
Jeff Skinner’s return to the lineup following a three-game benching didn’t make a difference. The 11th-year forward in the second season of an eight-year, $72 million contract has just one assist in 15 games this season, and now hasn’t scored in 19 games dating to last year.
Couturier opened the scoring 14:22 in after teammate Travis Sanheim intercepted Henri Jokiharju’s clearing attempt up the right boards. Sanheim stepped toward the middle and fed Couturier in the high slot from where his shot glanced off the glove of defender Brandon Montour and knuckled in over Hutton’s left shoulder.
The Flyers then put the game on ice late in the second period when Gostisbehere, on a partial break up the left wing, and Laughton scored 4:21 apart.
Laughton was eager to return after experiencing body aches, headaches and fatigue, with the severest COVID-19 symptoms lasting for two days while he was in protocol.
“It was nervous excitement. Nice to have a 1 o’clock game. You wake up right away and you’re right at it,” Laughton said.
Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek and Oskar Lindblom each had assists in their first game since landing in the COVID-19 protocol nearly three weeks ago. Justin Braun also returned to the lineup. That leaves Travis Konecny as the lone Flyer remaining on the COVID-19 list after the team had as many as seven players listed as recently as Feb. 17.
Buffalo welcomed back defenseman Rismus Ristolainen, who missed seven games after dealing with a severe bout of COVID-19.
KRUEGER ON SKINNER
A day after citing accountability and team culture as a reason for benching Skinner, Sabres coach Ralph Krueger hoped the player could grow from the experience.
“Just build on the conversations we had this week, and on the hard work that he put in in a difficult position,” Krueger said. “Hopefully, this proves to be a good little regroup to launch an excellent rest of the season for Jeff.”
Skinner played on a line alongside Riley Sheahan and Casey Mittelstadt.
Flyers captain Claude Giroux played in his 904th career game, moving one ahead of Bill Barber and into second place on the team list led by Bobby Clarke (1,144 games). … Sabres forward Curtis Lazar played in his 300th career game.
Teams complete two-game series in Buffalo on Sunday.
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