Game 19 Preview: New Jersey Devils @ Philadelphia Flyers - 11/16/2009

The Time: 7 PM EST

The Broadcasting Info: Versus for the TV (hope you don't have DirecTV like I do); Devils main site/NHL for radio feed

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (14-4-0) @ the Philadelphia Flyers (10-5-1)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils got off to a rocky start by giving up two goals to the Washington Capitals on their first two shots.  Then New Jersey hit back with five unanswered and beautiful goals.  My recap of the game explains why the score flattered the Devils more than anything else.

The Last Flyers Game: The Flyers were hot prior to visiting the Buffalo Sabres. Alas, the Sabres got the best of them and held off a third period comeback effort by the Orange and Black.  The Flyers lost to the Sabres, 3-2; a loss described by Geoff Detweiler at Broad Street Hockey as "frustrating" in his recap.

The Last Devils-Flyers Game: It was the home opener at the Rock, but it was anything but welcoming for the Devils. The Flyers were just a step ahead of the Devils all night long and comfortably won 5-2.   I called the game as a rout by the Flyers since they were so dominant with the puck in my recap back in October.

The Goal: Stay vigilant.   In my opinion, the Devils are in that odd area where they've won so much - undefeated on the road - yet the wins largely didn't come easy.  In five of the last six games, the Devils conceded the first goal - most recently, the first two goals against the Caps - forcing them to make a comeback.  Can we honestly expect the Devils to keep doing this over and over?  Yet, just when I think the opening to a game may lead to the eventual end of the winning streak, the Devils dig deep and eventually make their presence felt, equalizing before killing off the game for yet another win.  

The Flyers are a tough enough opponent as-is, being a rival; and emotions tonight will especially be high as the team will honor Dave Schultz prior to the game.   Therefore, I feel the Devils should aim to be on guard and not let the start of the game get to them.  After all, New Jersey has been winning this way for the past two weeks.

Read on for further thoughts about the game, a guess at lines, and some insight into the Flyers thanks to Travis Hughes of Broad Street Hockey.

Today, Jamie Langenbrunner, Bryce Salvador, Andy Greene, and David Clarkson didn't practice; but according to Jacques Lemaire via Tom Gulitti, they'll be expected to play.  In that regard, I'm going to guess we're going to see the same lineup that the Rock saw on Saturday against the Capitals.

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Patrik Elias
 Brian Rolston - Dainius Zubrus - Jamie Langenbrunner
  Matt Halischuk - Tim Sestito - Niclas Bergfors
  Andrew Peters - Rod Pelley - David Clarkson

Andy Greene - Bryce Salvador
Colin White - Mike Mottau
  Mark Fraser - Cory Murphy

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

Admittedly, I'm not feeling all four lines on paper but take comfort in that Lemaire will likely change them during the game. If not within the first period, then most likely after the first intermission.  That's why this is a guess at the lineup as opposed to the expected lineup. 

Also: I'm not a fan of fighting, but I would like to see Peters actually be the one to eat any fighting majors.  The Flyers, on Dave Schultz Night, are a team that isn't at all averse to starting something on the ice. Given that Peters is best known for punching people in the face, it'd be better for him to do the fighting instead of a useful player like, say, Clarkson or Salvador. (And perhaps Mark Fraser too considering the last fight he was in with a Flyer didn't go so well.  Per Gulitti, he won't be looking for one - which is good.) Maybe we'll see Leblond if Lemaire is thinking tonight could get out of hand with the physical stuff?

Now, just for kicks, let's take a moment to look at who the top shooters on the Devils as of now:


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG SOG PCT
Zach Parise 18 10 12 22 12 4 2 1 1 80 12.5
Brian Rolston
17 4 3 7 -2 2 2 0 1 57 7.0
Nicklas Bergfors
18 5 9 14 1 6 3 0 2 53 9.4
David Clarkson
18 6 8 14 3 31 2 0 2 48 12.5
Jamie Langenbrunner
18 4 11 15 6 0 1 1 1 46 8.7
Travis Zajac
18 6 12 18 9 8 2 0 0 46 13.0

Five of the Devils' top six shooters are the top five scorers on the team. I don't think that's coincidence.  Yet, the exception is Brian Rolston.   Now, let me be frank: I feel if he keeps up his shooting, the points will come. After all, it wasn't long ago that Bergfors was able to get shots but no points, much less goals.  He kept doing what he was doing and now he's made the adjustments necessary to get goals. With that sweet pass to Matt Halischuk on Saturday night for his first goal, Bergfors is also improving in his awareness and in his confidence to make plays.   While Rolston's not a rookie like Bergfors, confidence is still a key ingredient for success on the ice. That will come eventually as long as Rolston continues to put in a good effort on offense night in and night out.

Likewise, look at Clarkson's and Zajac's stat lines.  It's interesting that all three have similar shooting percentages so far.  While I'm not sure if they can keep up that rate, it does lead one to wonder. Do they just need to shoot more, or are both players more selective with their shots - leading to more accurate shots?  I'd like to see them shoot more often if only to provide additional offensive pressure outside of Parise.  In Clarkson's case, just staying out of the penalty box could lead to more shooting opportunities!

I highlight these 6 shooters because tonight's performance by the Devils will hinge on how well these guys do up against this man:


GP MIN W L T EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
 Ray Emery 15 912 10 4 34 2.24 431 397 .921 1

Yep, Emery has been fantastic to start this season. That sound you may hear is the grumblings of confused Ottawa fans.   Parise & Co. will have their work cut out for them if they are able to get an open look at Emery.  I think that if those six aren't able to put tough shots on net, then I'm not sure how the Devils will be able to come out of Philly with a win.  I'm not saying that the Devils need to shoot every time they have the puck on their stick; setting up a shot is usually worth the wait if it's done right.  But they would be wise to force Emery to stand on his head as often as possible.  Though, I'm worried that Emery will do just that given how well he has played so far!

Speaking of the Flyers, I was fortunate to ask some questions to Travis Hughes of Broad Street Hockey to get some insight about Our Second Hated Rivals. 

Question #1. The Flyers' winning streak has just been snapped, but they came awfully close to coming from behind against Buffalo.  How do you think the Flyers will respond now that they have lost a game?  Do you expect them to bounce back or do you think a loss was coming from their on-ice play and could be the start of something worse?

TH: The Flyers looked dead in the first part of the game against Buffalo. They were out-hit, out-worked, and out-played by the Sabres. Toward the end of the second period and for just about all of the third, however, they were the better team. A few bad bounces went against them and ultimately wound up costing them, and when you couple that with a less-than-complete performance, you're not going to win in the NHL. But like I said, the effort was there toward the end of the game and I'd expect them to come out firing against the Devils on Monday night. It's a division game, how could you not?

Question #2. The Flyers currently boast the best power play in the league with a 26.7% conversion rate. From what you have seen, why do you think the Flyers have been so successful on the power play?

TH: Chris Pronger [JF Aside: Statline below, please note he averages 27:01 of ice time per game].


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG GTG SOG PCT
2009 - Chris Pronger 16 4 13 17 13 26 1 0 0 0 36 11.1

It's hard to believe one player can be so effective, but it's the trickle-down effect that he causes that makes this power play so good. With Pronger at the helm of one power play unit, Kimmo Timonen can run the other, giving them two extremely solid units that can beat anyone. When you've got two of the best PP point-men on your team, it's tough to be stopped.

Question #3. Turning to not-so-pleasant team statistics, the Flyers have averaged 16.9 PIM/game so far this season, the fourth highest in the league.  Has this been an issue in Philadelphia, and if so, what do you think the team needs to do to cut down on their penalty minutes?

TH: I think we all look at it as progress, actually. They were the top team in the league last year and stupid penalties are probably what cost them a shot at the Cup last year. This year, while the number is still high, players like Dan Carcillo and Scott Hartnell have shown a lot more discipline. Carcillo, in fact, has probably drawn more penalties then he's taken so far this year. It's something the team as a whole still needs to work on, for sure, but it's getting better.

Question #4. While Devils fans are beginning to praise rookie winger Nicklas Bergfors more and more, the Flyers have an impressive rookie winger of their own: James van Riemsdyk.  Based on what you have seen of him this season, what sticks out from his game that has made him so successful so far?

TH: He doesn't seem to be bothered by the fact that he's playing in the NHL. He's extremely poised on the ice for a rookie. He just goes out and plays his game like he's still at New Hampshire and he acts like he belongs on the team. For a guy that most thought would be in Adirondack this season, it's an impressive quality to have. At the same time, it doesn't hurt to have Jeff Carter and Danny Briere as his linemates. Those two are pretty good teachers.

Question #5. Lastly, what do you predict will happen in tonight's game?

TH: It's Dave Schultz Night at the Wachovia Center, so I'm going to say a 3-1 Flyer win with about four fights. Wouldn't be right, otherwise.

Big thanks to Travis of Broad Street Hockey for answering my questions for this preview.  I, of course, disagree with his prediction. I'd like to point out that the Devils have spoiled home openers this season on the road as well as decisively beating teams who were then superior in the standings.  A loss by the Flyers would be right with respect to the Devils' current road form.

But do take heed in Travis' responses.  I, too, expect the Flyers to come out tonight to play with a purpose and avoid what they did wrong against Buffalo on Saturday night.  This is a very talented team from Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and the aforementioned van Reimsdyk at forward; to the noted Pronger, Matt Carle and Timonen leading their blueline; and behind all of that is Ray Emery.  And they are trying to actually improve one of their trouble spots: penalties.

The Devils have a chance to tie a NHL record with 10 consecutive road wins and if they can do it tonight, it would be a big feat considering the quality of the opponent.  Just beating Ray Emery will be a feat, considering how well he's played so far.  If they stay vigilant on the ice and continue playing their game even if the start doesn't go well, then the Devils still have a chance to get the win - even from behind if necessary.  They won at MSG, at the Verizon Center, at the TD Garden, and twice at the Igloo. The Devils know how to play rivals on their turf and the vigilance they displayed there will be required to win tonight in Philly.

Want to share your dislike for the Flyers or discuss how the Devils need to win tonight?  Please leave all your thoughts, questions, concerns, and other words about tonight's game in the comments.  Steve will take care of the GameThread.  Expect a radio-based recap on my end as I don't have Versus thanks to the current DirecTV-Versus spat.  It's been a while since I've listened to the radio feed so it will certainly be a different experience.  Nonetheless, either by radio, TV, or by being there live, please support the right team in this game: Go Devils!

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