The New Jersey Devils defeated their Second Most Hated Rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, for the first time this season 4-1 at the Rock tonight. The NHL.com recap is already up with all the stats that you'd like to see. Check out Broad Street Hockey for the Flyers' take, which contains a lot of frustration and or disappointment about the Flyers' performance.
The game changed from period to period. The first period was simply fantastic hockey by the Devils. They straight up dominated the Flyers in every aspect of the game, converted two power play goals, Patrik Elias tacked on a third which was his 300th career goal, and nearly put four past Brian Boucher. A part of me hopes that the Devils coaching staff has a tape of that first period so they can show the Devils exactly what they are capable of - and use it to prevent periods like, say, the second one in tonight's game.
The second was the exact opposite, it was almost as if the teams switched mentalities. The Flyers decided to show up for this one and the Devils decided to take it easy. I really have no answers as to why, but it happened. The Devils were pinned back, the Flyers had more possession and more shots, and Martin Brodeur had to come up huge in a few situations. Of course, he was not perfect. Claude Giroux scored on a bad-angle shot on a power play and gave the Flyers a lifeline. Thankfully for New Jersey, that lifeline was yanked out of it's cord when Patrik Elias put home a fantastic pass by Brian Rolston on a 2-on-1 in the final minute of the period.
The Flyers were surely deflated during the third period. While the Devils didn't look as good in the first, they kept the Flyers honest in their own end, they tried some good attempts on Boucher, and as time went on you can tell that the game was essentially over. The Flyers kept mishandling the puck and conceding possession, whereas the Devils slowed their pace a little bit. Not a bad effort, something I wouldn't have minded seeing from the Devils in the second period.
Read on after the jump for further thoughts on the game.
First, some highlights from NHL.com:
The two top players on the ice were the goal scorers themselves, Nicklas Bergfors and Patrik Elias. Both got braces, both got 4 shots on net, and both somehow racked up a few official giveaways according to the Event Summary of the game. Hmm. In any case, both players looked real strong going forward. Bergfors was constantly going to the net and you saw in the video, thankfully he did just that. His first goal was simply impressive, leading the breakout through the neutral zone and just got through Braydon Coburn and then got it through Boucher's legs. Great stuff on the power play.
But Patrik Elias was just all over the place. Strong in his own end, he was pretty good with his passing all night long, and his goals were fantastic. His first one was a one-timer you'd expect from a pure sniper, a classic highlight-reel worthy goal fitting for a milestone like a 300th career goal. Credit Vladimir Zharkov for his fine work along the boards to protect the puck and get it to Elias. But the second period goal from Elias was far more important. Not just because he is now only 46 goals away from tying John MacLean's franchise record.
The Devils were truly bad in that second period, and again, I don't know why. Maybe they were tired? Maybe they were surprised the Flyers would come out with energy (I hope this isn't the answer)? Maybe they couldn't sustain the level of intensity for two straight periods unless Philly fell flat on it's butt? Whatever you and I may think it is, the fact is that the Flyers got the better of the Devils and pulled within one goal. Martin Brodeur really should have had Claude Giroux's shot. (Aside: I didn't think that was honestly a holding penalty on Jamie Langenbrunner to begin with as a Flyer hugged Langenbrunner's stick for a good 5 feet, but what do I know.) He said as such to Tom Gulitti after the game - not because it killed a shutout, but because he did get a piece of it. However, I think he more than made up for it when he had to make some dynamite saves on the Flyers. 12 shots by Philly, they kept pushing forward, leaving the Devils back, and even on the one power play the Devils did get, the Flyers went up and had a good scoring chance. The Devils only put 5 shots on net, yet the last one was crucial.
Elias' goal at the end sent the message, "We sucked this period, but you know what, you're not winning this game." Most, if not all, of the momentum the Flyers built up in that period, the things they could have built on for the second, was wiped away with 34 seconds left in the second period. The Devils regained their three goal lead in spite of how they played. The Flyers looked deflated as the period ended. As one of the lovely and classy Flyer fans behind me said, "I'm just glad they got a goal, forget the win." And so that fan just must be thrilled as the Flyers just settled for that. Elias goal didn't just restore a lead, it rattled the Flyers' focus. They should have spent the intermission trying to forget about the goal and focus on how they did in those other 19 minutes. But they didn't.
And instead of just trying to look past that goal, they got dumber on the ice. They took two unnecessary calls that they should be happy Brian Boucher and some execution issues prevented the Devils from making the Flyers pay the price. Even so, it meant 4 minutes where the Flyers had to focus mainly on their own end. Outside of that, the Flyers conceded possession easily in the neutral zone, which just hurt their attack. Their passes were poor and the Devils just kept dogging them when they could.
On offense, they didn't make decisions quick enough or correctly enough to make Brodeur really sweat in even strength. Their best scoring chance came while killing a penalty when Brodeur stacked the pads on Jeff Carter. Nice save, but why is Brodeur having to make nice saves on a power play, Devils PP Units? Nevertheless, that was the biggest threat by Philly. The Flyers stopped battling somewhere after the third minute of the third period and the Devils were unfortunate to not make this a bigger score. The Devils were happy to take control of all of these loose pucks - especially Andy Greene, who cleaned up a lot of pucks in his 27:19 of ice time, and that pretty much meant the end.
Admittedly, the Devils weren't as aggressive as they were in the first period, but they did go forward and put a few shots on Boucher. I don't think the Devils stopped trying, but you could tell they didn't have to try as hard given how Philly was playing. Not trying to step up their intensity was a big mistake and really dumb. Why not try to at least make it a game again against a rival? Why give up? I don't know and I'm sure the Flyer fans are asking similar questions as well.
Outside of this, I do want to point out that Martin Brodeur had a very good game from what I saw. Some of those shots by the Flyers were truly dangerous shots. After all, there is a reason why he has more highlight saves than Boucher per the highlight video earlier in this recap. He came up huge on a couple of shorthanded attempts by the Flyers, which were also important as giving up a shortie is a great way to let an opponent back into a game. According to Jacques Lemaire, as reported by Gulitti, that save on Carter in the second period was massive. Honestly, his only real error was the Giroux goal but ultimately that didn't matter thanks to Elias' important second period goal. Could you fault the defense on some of those chances? For some, like the shorthanded chances, seriously those were breakdowns, yes. However, could you really complain about the defense overall as they held the Flyers to 23 shots? Probably not, unless you have high expectations.
So my real complaints about the Devils' performance was their second period and that the power play gave up a few scoring chances while not really frightening the Flyers on those last few man advantages. Yet, the Devils settled things down in the third period - something I would have liked to have seen in the second, admittedly. The power play did convert twice thanks to Bergfors and those two third period power plays went a long way in killing the Flyers' spirit (they did so little after them), so I can't gripe too much about the power play units.
There were some areas I would have liked to have seen the Devils perform better upon further reflection. Had the Devils not take their foot off the proverbial pedal, they could have had 30+ shots instead of just 28. That would have really forced the Flyers back more, and who knows, blow up the score. The one thing Flyers fans can say they dominated the Devils at tonight was at the faceoff dot, as the Devils only won 37% of faceoffs. Though that ultimately didn't mean much. For example, Rob Niedermayer, who played a ton of minutes (22:57), got owned the most as he won only 6 out of 21. Then he usually followed that up by forcing a Flyer to make a hasty decision wherein a Devil picked up a stray puck. So faceoffs were not as crucial tonight.
I'd say the Devils played 40 minutes out of this one. A great 20 followed by a poor 20 and finished with an acceptable 20. Were it not for some unlucky bounces or Brian Boucher coming up big - Brian Rolston nearly had a goal like Elias' second, but Boucher made a fantastic sliding save - this could have easily ended as a big blowout in favor of New Jersey. Instead, I and the Devils fans left the Rock very happy that the Flyers lost in a decisive fashion. The Devils got some revenge for the last two Devils-Flyers games, which were wins where the Flyers outplayed the Devils. The performance by the home team was improved upon some of the recent ones at the Rock, so there's that. The passing was much improved over the dreck that was seen against Florida. The Devils kept cool in light of Philadelphia's lack of discipline save for Colin White shoving Daniel Briere down after a whistle. Bergfors and Elias had huge nights as the difference makers tonight with braces; and Elias hit a career milestone. And, well, the Devils just beat the Flyers, 4-1. Plenty to be happy about, in my view. Now the Devils can rest for three days and try to improve upon their second period performances against Montreal on Wednesday.
Thanks for reading, and a big thanks to Steve for setting up the GameThread as well as a big thanks to the commenters on it as my mobile messaging was lacking tonight. The crowd was good and largely pro-Devils and I enjoyed the company around me despite the class acts whining about the Flyers behind me. (Aside #1: Oh well, they all got a good view of my New Jersey Devils scarf after the goals. Aside #2: Pro-tip for the Flyers fans, bragging about the team value of the Flyers being better than the Devils means little as Elias scores a one-timer.) Combine that with few breaks in the action and so there wasn't much time to text. All the same, the result is what matters and the Devils got it. As usual, please leave your thoughts on tonight's game in the comments.