The New Jersey Devils have shutout the Philadelphia Flyers tonight at the Rock in a 1-0 win that only looked closer than it actually was. NHL.com has a recap of the game, complete with links to the boxscore and other stats. Those who are lazy will point to the score and Philly's 3-shot third period and claim that the Devils are back to their "old ways" of "boring hockey." Those who actually saw the game know better, the Devils were attacking and the New Jersey fans in the arena were just waiting for a second goal to never come. Not hoping, but waiting given how often they walked into Philly's zone in the third period. But the Devils just couldn't beat Ray Emery for one of two reasons.
The first reason is Emery himself. Now, I do mean Ray Emery and not the starter Brian Boucher. Boucher left the game early in the first period after facing 3 shots and giving up 1. I suspect it was for an injury, I don't think John Stevens would switch goalies for anything else. As he did on Thursday, Emery played very well in net for the Flyers. OK, perhaps the Devils' shot selection could have been a bit better; but Emery came up huge on a number of scoring chances. Martin Brodeur sparkled and earned the shutout; Emery played well despite not being expected to play and kept this score as low as it was. Any Flyers fans worried about the team's goaltending should have been reassured that Ray Emery could be solution at goaltender once again.
The other reason why the Devils didn't blow up the Flyers on the scoreboard was due to the Flyers' excellent reactive defending. Positionally, they weren't so good; and Dainius Zubrus made them pay for it early with a sublime shot from the left-hand circle, beating Boucher far-post. A great way to start the game and the start of a fairly good night for the Big Z.
Yet, since then, the Flyers defense stepped up huge with some important intervensions. The Devils forwards were able to find many seams for excellent set-up passes for otherwise high-percentage scoring chances, especially in the third period. We're talking pucks gliding through the zone, through the crease, down low on Emery's flank, and such. But the Flyers defense didn't panic, well, they didn't panic to a fault at least. Some man in orange. would come in with a little (legal) hooking of the stick, a small hit to cause enough pressure, or something that on another night, would have been a goal. A great example of this is in the picture at the top of the article, Matt Carle's hooking of Rod Pelley's stick stopped a near certain goal. Credit to them for their reactionary defense, even if their puck handling and positioning were poor - again, most notably in the third period. It clearly helped keep this game at 1-0.
Overall, I felt the Devils were the better team in the first period (though not by much) and by far the superior team in the third. The Devils in the third period kept attacking and pushing forward, and the Flyers were more than happy to assist them with a lack of sustained offensive pressure, poor passes, and again, poor positional play on defense. When the Flyers did rush up into the Devils' zone with possession, they would waste it with a missed shot or some other decision. As a result, the Devils defense to cleaned up many of those pucks without too much of a problem and to immediately send the puck up ice to an open Devil. That is the reason why the Devils outshot them in that period 10-3; and the gap between the Flyers' second and third shot was massive.
Of course, like most coaches, Jacques Lemaire hit on the second period as an area of criticism - as reported by Gulitti after the game. Lemaire felt the Devils got into a lull and handed Philly two power plays - and I do mean hand them. David Clarkson after he took a shot that Emery froze, he must have said something to get an unsportsmanlike conduct call, which is very dumb. Dainius Zubrus' tripping call, I don't know; I felt Claude Giroux went down just a little too easy, but given that it happened later in the third; I suspect otherwise. I don't agree that the Devils "held back," at least not from what I saw. The Flyers had actual momentum in that period and used it to generate some good shots where Martin Brodeur made some great saves. The Devils didn't get much sustained offense, but they kept Philly's defense honest going forward. That said, I feel for that reason the Flyers were the better team in the second, but it wasn't by much. Similar to the first period of the game, in my opinion.
Another aspect of the game I'm sure Lemaire will have much to talk about at the next practice is the power play. On the 5 power plays they got (4 full, one abbreviated), the Devils would get one or two good shots on net and that would be it. In my opinion, the Devils were trying too hard setting up the perfect shot instead of settling for a good shot. While the Devils PP units put together some good ideas, Paul Martin moving in with the puck was nice to see, the execution was botched by a combination of the Flyers making an important defensive move to prevent a killer shot and just a little off in the timing, leading to sub-standard shots. I'm sure Lemaire will hit on this tomorrow.
And as a last major area of criticism, faceoffs. Zubrus was very good on faceoffs, winning 8 of 11. Everyone else, oh, they were bad. So many times the center was thrown out of the faceoff, meaning a winger took the draw. None of those wingers won any draws tonight. Combined with Zajac only winning 6 out of 16 and Tim Sestito going 2 for 6, the Devils got dominated on faceoffs. It didn't lead to much tonight, as evidenced by the 21 shots on net; but it's not an issue to really ignore going into the regular season. Winning faceoffs lead to puck possession and with that, you can control that shift with the right decisions.
On a more positive note, the Devils' penalty kill was great tonight. They made some key blocks and interceptions leading to big clearances, except of one kill where every clearance was gloved down by Braydon Coburn as the lone point man. Even then, they didn't give up on the puck and didn't give much important space for the Flyers to operate in. Combined with Martin Brodeur being, well himself, they were perfect tonight in terms of results and solid in terms of performance.
Likewise, in terms of who didn't do so well, I felt Brendan Shanahan didn't have a good game and a step behind on some plays. Brian Rolston was quiet while Dainius Zubrus was at least going forward and David Clarkson was happily working around the crease. Lemaire mentioned a lack of chemistry on some lines in tonight's game and I'm pretty sure this is what he meant. Andy Greene got a couple of shots on net, but he made a few head-scratching decisions in his own zone. Nothing major, but there were some shifts he made things more difficult than necessary (e.g. a weak pass that was intercepted in the corner despite two Devils being less than 10 ft. from Greene). While ZZ Pops was hustling and showing good effort, they didn't make too many good plays and so all three were quiet on the score sheet again.
For veterans who did well, Zubrus and Clarkson did fairly well in my opinion. Paul Martin already looks to be in mid-season form, he was smooth with the puck and without it. Johnny Oduya, lame tripping call on a PK aside, also looked pretty good on the blueline. But that's really it, the others being just "there" or having not played all that well.
As for guys looking to make the team, Jay Leach was just "there" and that doesn't help his cause, in my opinion. Nicklas Bergfors was energetic going forward and was featured on the power play a bit. He was about to add a game-icing power play empty net goal, but a backchecking Claude Giroux made an important play to force the puck back further as time ticked down. Still, 14:32 and 4 shots - tied with Clarkson for most shots by a Devil in tonight's game. Matt Halischuk played instead of Jay Pandolfo and he definitely hustled and got a few hits; but he didn't stick out that much. Rod Pelley and Tim Sestito had their ups and downs and it's going to be a tough decision for Lemaire to decide who to keep and who to send down to Lowell.
According to Gulitti, the Devils players feel they could have done much better tonight. Given what one can criticize about the game, I tend to agree. Yet, I believe on another night, maybe if Brian Boucher wasn't injured or maybe if the Flyers defense was just a second or two slower, then the Devils blow this game wide open in the third period and win by a larger amount. Of course, that's just a thought, that didn't actually happen. Still, their third period performance was great after a not so great second period and overall they were better than the Flyers tonight.
Check out Broad Street Hockey later on for their recap of tonight's game. Who do you think will make the Devils based on tonight's performance? Do you agree that the Devils held back in the second period? Likewise, do you agree that the Devils came awfully close to scoring at least another goal (or two or three or...) in the third and on another night they would have? Feel free to leave your thoughts about tonight's game in the comments section.