Well, I'm back from the game and let me begin this recap in a different direction that you might expect given the New Jersey Devils' 5-2 loss to Philadelphia in their opening game of the 2009-10 regular season. For the Flyers' perspective, check out Ben Rothenberg's recap at Broad Street Hockey. Like most Flyers fans, they are thrilled, and rightfully so, at tonight's result. Now, a list of good things that the Devils did in tonight's game.
- The Devils' penalty kill was not only perfect in killing all three Flyers power plays, but Jamie Langenbrunner even scored a shorthanded goal in the third period.
And that's pretty much it. Before I write a ton of words about how poorly the Devils were tonight, I want to thank all the commenters in the GameThread for keeping up with the action, discussing the games, and all within rules. Good job to all. What follows after the jump is a lot of criticism as the Devils definitely did not play anything resembling a solid game outside of their PK.
Fair credit to the Philadelphia Flyers for not relenting against the Devils, not that New Jersey made it difficult to do so. In my opinion, the worst part of the Devils' game tonight was the puck control. It was a problem in Tuesday's game, and it was much more costly in tonight's game. So many times the Devils would attempt a pass going forward, or a pass in their own zone, or even a simple clearance and something would go wrong. The puck would take a bad bounce. A Flyer would intercept the pass. The intended target for the pass misses the puck. The pass goes behind or away from the target. The pass wasn't strong enough. The pass was received so awkwardly that a Flyer skater was able to win it back without a problem. On offense, this allowed the Flyers defense to easily stop the Devils attack and get it up ice to their forwards. On defense, this allowed the Flyers to sustain offensive pressure. Sure, Philadelphia only had 27 shots on net, but they were (seemingly) in the Devils' end for a majority of the game.
You can't tell me tonight's game was the fault of coaching or the system or proof that the Devils roster really misses someone. I mean, even Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and Jamie Langenbrunner were mistiming passes with each other down low. And they are the one Devils line with total chemistry, not that you would have noticed that tonight. When the players can't maintain possession or string passes in succession, I don't see how you can succeed. At least, not without a lot of help to have a shot to continue to compete.
Normally, this is where Martin Brodeur would bail out the Devils. Not tonight! Martin Brodeur played his 1,000th career game tonight and it definitely wasn't good. I'm willing to concede some of those goals were more of the opposition putting in a well-placed shot. For example, Ian Laperriere's top shelf, tight angle shot in the second period and Mike Richards angling that wraparound up over the covered low corner later that period. Yet, at minimum, the other three goals were quite soft. I'm sure Brodeur could have stopped Jeff Carter's and Darroll Powe's low, far-post shots. I'm sure Brodeur could have made a save on Matt Carle's wrister on another night. And maybe Brodeur could have done better on Laperriere's and Richards' shot? Why didn't Marty fully hug the near post in those cases? In general, was Brodeur just too deep in his crease? Was he misreading the shooter? Was he, like so many of the Devils skaters, just "off his game?" All of that and more? Either way, he was awful. I'm sure he'll bounce back in Game #1001, if only because he really couldn't be much worse than he was tonight.
While Martin Brodeur had a bad game, it definitely does not excuse the overall defending by the Devils, which was terrible. Again, while the Flyers only had 27 shots, they often pinned the Devils in their own end for stretches at a time. Even the normally well-poised pairing of Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya were constantly skating after Flyer forwards. It wasn't just one Philadelphia line or a certain forward, which is why I'm not specifically calling one out. The Devils defense - backchecking forwards included - were just overran by the Flyers offense. All thanks to a frustrating cycle of the Devils struggling to get the puck back, making a clearance when they do, the Flyers easily picking up the clearance, and then back into the zone to repeat. This just kept happening in the second and third period; which was just great for the Flyers and just miserable for the Devils. The defense conceded too much space down low, where the Flyers scored 4 of their goals, and just made mistake after mistake. Even obvious situations where a player would be in the corner with the puck and instead of moving up, they drop it back thinking his teammate's there - only to result in the Flyers getting the puck back.
So if you combine a bad game by Martin Brodeur, a bad game defensively by the entire team in front of Brodeur, and constant issues with just passing the puck; the result shouldn't be any surprising. What else shouldn't be all that surprising was that the Devils' level of intensity definitely dropped off after the Laperriere goal. According to this postgame post by Gulitti, the players say that happened after the first (yes, first) wasted 5-on-3 power play. In my opinion, the Devils' energy level (and the overall play) of the Devils dropped like a stone after that second Philly goal. At least at the start of the second period, the Devils had some "go" in hustling towards the net. It was only 1-0 Flyers to start and the Devils had a man advantage to start the second. But once Laperriere scored later on, it just deflated the team until Brian Rolston's power play goal in the third period - which was quickly wiped away as meaningless by Carle's goal.
Now, I haven't mentioned the offense all that much and for good reason, so many of the causes of tonight's loss were on the Devils' defending and their inability to keep and move the puck consistently. Offensively, there's not a whole lot to say. Ray Emery had a good night, goals aside. He definitely robbed Travis Zajac in the first period with a toe-save out of nowhere to deny him an easy goal; and he got a quick glove to stop a Jay Pandolfo backhand rebound attempt that surely would have gone in if Emery wasn't so quick. Still, the Devils - thanks to the difficulties at puck control - struggled to generate scoring chances among the 26 shots they had on net.
Yet, the Devils definitely missed opportunities to take the game early by wasting not just one, but two 5-on-3 situations. The Flyers were more than happy to take some really dumb penalties, including Carter hooking a New Jersey player during a delayed penalty for Scott Hartnell, Chris Pronger's unnecessary check on a puck-less Devil, and Emery playing the puck outside of the trapezoid during the Pronger penalty. The total? 6 shots on net! Only 1 on the first 5-on-3! I know you want to set up the shot, but the PP units' poor passing (there's that issue again!) allowed the Flyers PK units to knock the puck away and then get a crucial clearance.
The Flyers PK was really on point until Niclas Bergfors found Rolston all alone at the point. Rolston's shot was great, but given how the Devils blew the glorious power play opportunities that could have changed the course of this game, I can't praise the power play by any means.
To summarize: Bad night from Brodeur, bad defending overall, an unremarkable offense, a wasteful power play, and absolutely miserable passing - even worse than what I saw against the Islanders on Tuesday. No team can win with all of that going for themselves in a game. All the Flyers had to do was play competent hockey and they did just that. Good defending in the slot, good movement of the puck up ice, and they just fired away where they needed to. This loss was a bad one for New Jersey and it's entirely deserved.
Thankfully, this is only the first game of the season. The Devils lost home openers in the past. The Devils will get revenge for this loss against Philly. And, hey, should the Devils go out on Monday and stomp all over the Rangers, I don't think many will worry about this loss.
But the Devils have a lot of work to do for Monday. Might I suggest passing the puck while in motion as a first step?