The New Jersey Devils extended a home winning streak to 4 games (really) by beating Our Second Most Hated Rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 through a shootout. The win was the team's first inter-division win of the season and ends a 4-game week with 6 points out of a potential 8, another high for the season. Outplayed
The win was also the Devils' second straight in a game where they improbably held on to take the opposition to a shootout; and it's the third straight game where the Devils' possession game was in the toilet for large sections of the game. Today's game was like Wednesday's against the Calgary Flames in numerous ways. The Devils had an early 1-0 lead, an equalizer in the third period, Johan Hedberg played fantastic, and the performances from both teams clearly showed anyone paying any attention that the visitors were the superior team. Unlike that game, the Flyers did a lot more with the puck possession they got - and so they took over at even strength.
Again, I may come across as being overly negative again. After all, given where the Devils are, given that they lost to the New York Islanders yesterday, and given who today's opponent was, I should be happy with a win by any means necessary. I'm glad they got the result. I'm glad they disappointed a rival like Philadelphia. Yet, like with the Calgary game, I can't really praise how the Devils did. I'll go into more details (along with a NHL.com game highlight video) after the jump. For a Flyers-based take, please read this recap by Travis Hughes at Broad Street Hockey.
Let's get right into how the Devils got dominated again. Right from the game summary, the Flyers outshot the Devils 41-25. That alone is telling and terrible. The first period was pretty good for the Devils, actually, up until about the final 5 minutes. Then, the Devils were up 1-0 and leading in shots 10-4. They were skating well, moving the puck decently through the neutral zone, and so forth. This was answered by the Flyers catching up, taking the game to NJ, and turning that 10-4 shot differential into 11-10 (Devils still led) by the end of the first.
It was a sign of things to come, in retrospect. The Flyers upped the pressure in the second and third periods with 28 shots for and 11 against across both periods. They really didn't let up even when they tied the game up. I can understand the Flyers outshooting the Devils to a point, as they were behind for most of the game; but when the differential is that large, it's clear that the Flyers owned most of the game. The 5-on-5 Corsi chart from Time on Ice is ugly for nearly all of the Devils except for Andy Greene, Mark Fayne, and Adam Mair. And Greene-Fayne is positive is incredibly impressive since they each played 19+ minutes and the other big minute defensive pairing (Colin White & Henrik Tallinder) got dominated at evens. Either way, the chart is further proof that the Flyers had territorial advantage for most of the game; though a 38 to 22 differential in favor of Philly in even strength shots also suffices as evidence.
Once again, I'm left baffled at to what the New Jersey coaches and players were collectively thinking. OK, the second period wasn't totally in Hedberg's face; but one would think that after a period of being outshot 14-6 that someone would want to suggest some changes. Perhaps communicate differently. Doing anything about the situation as-is. Instead, the Flyers actually became more effective at keeping New Jersey on defense and piling rubber on Johan Hedberg. I'm not looking for a 5-0 beatdown of a team, I'm looking for the Devils to play in sync for a whole game; move the puck well in the neutral zone instead of needing to dump it or giving it away on an errant pass or clear; and keep the opposition honest even with a lead.
While they got the win today, I can guarantee that the Devils will not win many more games playing they way have in their last three games.
Anyway, Johan Hedberg deserves a lot of credit for the many saves he made. The NHL.com game highlights, in my opinion, did right by his work by including 12 of his 40 saves. In this video, you'll see how despite all the big stops, a little fluke from Danny Briere was all it took to beat him once in the third. Still, Hedberg has been ridiculous in this past week with a shutout and only 4 goals allowed in the other three games (including today's). Who knows where the Devils would have been without such fortunate and brilliant goaltending? Probably with a few more 'L's and and more anger.
You'll also notice that Adam Mair scored one ridiculous goal, the lone one in 65 minutes for New Jersey today. It's his first of the season and the first goal by any of the fourth line players in 2010-11. While it was a great shot and probably a big relief for him that he was able to contribute something, that and 2 other shots in the first period were it for the whole game offensively. 3 shots on goal, only in the first 20 minutes. While he came out even in Corsi, which is big given how Philly owned the puck, can we really say he had a great game? Shouldn't we say, he had a great first period and didn't get pounded beyond that?
As a whole, as noted earlier, the attack by New Jersey was poor beyond the first period. In that first, they got going with a relatively early 4 minute power play and kept up the intensity for about the first 15 minutes. Alas, everything went awry since then and the biggest tell is the shot summary from NHL.com. You'll see that so many Flyers had shots on net, including 9 from Jeff Carter, across multiple periods. As for the Devils, only two Devils had shots on net recorded in more than one period: Ilya Kovalchuk (8) and David Clarkson (4). And only Kovalchuk had shots in each of the three periods as well as overtime for New Jersey.
Kovalchuk was all over the place today, in playing 26:31 (21:05 at even strength), and I can justify MacLean's usage of him. He led the Devils with 8 shots and 15 total shooting attempts. When he had the puck in New Jersey's end, it was almost always carried over the blueline and he made a point of it to carry it over himself. Critics will sit there and point out that the scorer knocked him for 6 giveaways, that he turned Mattias Tedenby invisible, and he missed the puck in overtime on a late chance. And that's just from this Tom Gulitti post and his first comment in said post.
All of that happened, I don't dispute that (nor his ghastly -10 Corsi). But I look at it this way: the Devils' attack would have been a complete paper tiger without Kovalchuk today. The team continued to struggle to get the puck up ice after defending Philadelphia's attack. On some shifts, they could only dump it as everyone was gassed from scrambling to prevent a rebound or a lateral chance for the Flyers. Fine. On others, though, clearances got taken by the Flyers and several passes through the neutral zone were easily picked up by the Flyers. Like with the Calgary game, the puck movement was predictable enough at times for the Flyers to hang back, wait for the dump in, and then move up ice.
Kovalchuk did lead a lot of rushes up himself, but unlike many of the other Devils, he actually got penetration into Philadelphia's end and forced their defense to step up. Travis Hughes can call him a "big, frustrated joke" as much as he wants; but the Flyers definitely took him seriously. And even with that, he got into position for 8 shots on goal and 15 attempts. You may only remember the ones that failed, but he definitely succeeded on other attempts. It wasn't as if the other Devils were ignoring him - if they saw him in position, they set him up for a shot. Brian Boucher had to make a couple of excellent glove saves on rockets from #17. Likewise, if Kovalchuk felt he had a good option, he tried to make the pass.
Yet, when he rushed through the neutral zone, for some reason few Devils went wide to at least stretch the play out - essentially taking themselves out of the play.
Before the Islanders game, Gulitti reported that MacLean wanted Kovalchuk to be more selfish, that he wanted more shots from the winger. Message received (though a day late) and he accomplished that to the point where he alone represented just under a third of all total shots on net on a day where most of the Devils offense was stunted. He was the lone bright spot, warts and all. Quite frankly, I don't see how he should be heavily criticized for his play today unless you just want to whine about Kovalchuk.
Patrik Elias did not play today as his wife is expecting to give birth to a child. I believe his absence definitely had a big effect on Mattias Tedenby and Jason Arnott. Both were moved to other lines and both were bad today. While Travis Zajac went 9-for-15 on draws, at least attempted 4 shots, and scored the game winner in the shootout; Tedenby was invisible, caught standing about too much, and making tentative plays throughout the day. So he finished the day with no shots on goal, a shot blocked, and a -5 on Corsi. That's not Kovalchuk's fault; and perhaps maybe not even Tedenby's to a degree. He's a rookie and by their nature, they're inconsistent. He's had good games and he'll have some nondescript ones, today was one of the latter. Moving on, there's Jason Arnott. I don't put a lot of stock into the giveaway stat since who knows how the Devils scorer counts it; but Arnott had 4 of his own. At least Kovalchuk created offense, Arnott had 1 measly shot on net in the game, had a -6 Corsi at evens, and one big shootout goal. Still, those two stuck out as being poor and I'm hoping they'll do better next time as they will be looked upon for offense.
In non-Elias-linemate Devils forwards who were nondescript; Dainius Zubrus registered no shot attempts at all today while playing 22:02. I'm actually impressed (though not in a positive way). How one could play so much and not even make one attempt to shoot in a game?
One last note about the game: the game was called as a sellout. Mind you, it was a large crowd and I can buy that all of the tickets were sold - but not all of the seats were filled. There were pockets of empty seats, presumably for a number of reasons (e.g. holiday weekend, the Flyers not being a big draw, etc.). But if they were sold, then so be it. There was a significant number of Flyers fans, but nowhere near, say, the number of Rangers fans that would be at the Rock. The crowd was predominantly in support of the Devils and made themselves heard from where I was in Section 1. I would go as far as to say the crowd, Hedberg, and Kovalchuk were the only ones consistently making their presence felt throughout the whole game today.
The Devils will get a relatively long break as their next game is next Thursday. Per Tom Gulitti, the team will go attend Pat Burns funeral after practice on Monday. So they'll have 3 days of practice to prepare for an excellent Montreal team. While MacLean may say this week was a good one; I have to hope he realizes that this team will not win games the way they have played recently. They need to make a point of it in practice to work on puck movement, communication, and how to handle situations such as when the other team decides to trap or if the Devils can't get the puck forward off boards in the neutral zone. The Devils still have a lot of improving to do, regardless of having just beat Our Second Most Hated Rivals.
Anyway, that's my take on the game. What's yours? What did you like the most out of the game? What worried you the most today? What about today's game worries you for future games? Do you think MacLean's job is still safe? Do you think the Devils will actually build upon this win after a 4 day break? Please let me know your answers and other thoughts about today's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.