New Jersey Devils Blow Two Goal Lead to Philadelphia Flyers - Again, Lose 3-2 in OT

Once again, the New Jersey Devils faced off with the Philadelphia Flyers.  Once again, the New Jersey Devils scored the first two goals of the game.  Once again, the Philadelphia Flyers clawed back to tie it at two and go into the third period 2-2.  The only difference - with respect to the score - is that the Flyers needed overtime to get that third goal to win the game, 3-2.  In conjunction with how bad the team has played as well as the fact that it's a rival team, fans are upset, frustrated, and unhappy.  Justifiably so.

I do want to show my appreciation for the Devils fans who did show up to the Rock.  New Jersey was hit hard with a snowstorm all throughout Wednesday, making travel incredibly difficult.  As risky as it was to travel, 5,580 still showed up to see Jersey's Team take on the Flyers.  I thank you all for showing up, you were all heard chanting loudly on the broadcast.

At the same time, I offer my sympathies that they went through the effort only to witness a second consecutive loss to the Orange and Black.   I will say that the performance by the Devils and the Flyers was significantly different from what was seen on Monday.  That will come after the jump.   If you'd like a more neutral perspective, here's the recap from NHL.com.  For the Flyers' perspective, the place you want to check out later is Broad Street Hockey.    Read on, if you'd like to read further thoughts about the Devils' performance.

First and foremost, the Devils played this game without one important asset and most of the game without another.  Zach Parise was scratched tonight, listed out with the dreaded "upper body injury."  Chico Resch said on the broadcast during a break in the action that it was a stiff back, but there hasn't been any confirmation of that.  Given how dynamic Parise is as a player, the Devils sorely missed him on offense.  This is not hyperbole, the Devils offense really did suffer tonight; I will go into that in a moment.

During the game, on a penalty kill, Bryce Salvador got a stray stick from Simon Gagne and took it in the face.  While Salvador went down and was bleeding, play continued and the Flyers PP hit the post.  Salvador went to the bench and would not return. I'm sure it was an accident, but normally the refs call that regardless of intent.  A big non-call. The Devils limited call-up defender Rob Davison to spot duty, he only played 7 shifts for 3:59. The loss of Salvador led to some huge minutes for the other defensemen: Andy Greene played Nicklas Lidstrom-type minutes with 32:37; Mike Mottau played 29:36 and looked solid; Colin White played 25:44, and even Mark Fraser got big minutes with 24 minutes of work.

Honestly, while the defensive coverage wasn't good on the penultimate play of the game, I can't fault the defensive play tonight.  They held the Flyers to a mere 15 shots on net; blocked 16 shots (!!!); and generally looked good on the PK, killing all four of the Flyers' power plays and only allowing 3 shots against in those four power plays.  Mike Mottau didn't have that one terrible shift where he makes that one terrible mistake, he was solid all night long.  As was White,  Fraser looked more than fine considering he rarely gets more than 14 minutes on a given night.  In the third period, especially, the defense conceded only one shot against; though a lot of that was helped out by the Flyers' offense playing extremely poorly.

At the same time, the goals against, I can't fully fault Martin Brodeur for at least two of them. Aaron Asham's shot took an unfortunate deflection off Andy Greene, who was where he was supposed to be, to change direction right in front.  Jeff Carter's shot was perfectly placed into the corner; and Simon Gagne's game-winning shot went through thanks to Carter screening Brodeur.   If you're going to complain that Brodeur is terrible now and needs to rest and moan about 3 goals against on 15 shots, then all you're saying is that A) you have unrealistic expectations of a goaltender and/or B) you didn't actually see the goals.   To help with that, here's the highlights of the game from NHL.com:

Honestly, you expect the goalie to still make a save on a puck that changes directions that close to him or to stop a shot he can't see?  If so, then go back to playing NHL10 or whatever fantasy world you're coming from, because that's entirely unrealistic.

If you want to talk about what was terrible tonight, let's talk offense.  Both teams were pretty bad at it.  Passing was sketchy for both teams.  Forwards would go to the net but not necessarily with the puck or not.  Pucks would often end up loose, either from a pass going right to a players' skates, a pass going wide, or just left behind after making a stop.  It was like both the Devils and the Flyers were out of sync going forward.  Even after scoring a goal, the teams just struggled at times to make the simplest of passes.  

Therefore, the game was very ugly.  The Flyers, as noted earlier, only had 15 shots on net, were blocked 16 times, and missed 9 times.  That's only 40 attempts on net, with a mere 37.5% on-net accuracy.  The Devils weren't much better. They put 23 on net, were blocked 13 times, and missed the net 14 times.  That's 50 attempts; but the accuracy was still below half, only 46%.  Neither team put more than 10 pucks on target in any single period.  Neither team can honestly say they got consistently great chances on either goaltender. Both defenses made important plays, yes, but both offenses were poor to help them out.

For New Jersey, it's more frightful partially because they got the first two goals and didn't build on it after all, partially because the power play was pointless again, and partially because despite all the talk about how the team needs to be better, how the last few weeks have gone, the offense isn't enough to pull the Devils through to win this game.  With the 7-1 shot disparity in the third period and the amount of possession they had, I felt that maybe the Devils would be feeling good going into overtime.  Obviously not. The one shift where the Flyers held on to the puck and moved it around well was the one they scored on.    I understand the defensive coverage wasn't ideal and that there was a screen, but the Devils had chances to put the game away earlier and so it comes back to haunt them - again.

In fact, now that I think about it, the goals the Devils did score were a lot like the ones on Monday.  One goal was a shot that beat the keeper, Travis Zajac fired a low shot that literally trickled through Michael Leighton and slid slowly into the net.  The other goal came off a Philadelphia defenseman's skate and in, only this one wasn't on a powerplay, the attempted pass was by Rob Niedermayer, and the unfortunate defenseman was Kimmo Timonen.  Of course, this wasn't enough to win. With the way the offense carried itself, they weren't going to - putting aside a two-on-one after the Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond penalty that Patrik Elias and Zajac should have done better on.

But going to back to the chances, I really do think that if Zach Parise was good to go tonight, the Devils would have fared much better. They would have challenged Leighton more often.  Parise would be darting ahead and causing havok down low.  That would have been real useful given how sloppy the game was, but it wasn't like the other forwards are so bereft with talent that they could make much happen.  They attempted to put pucks in the middle, taking it into the slot, but either the space wasn't there (good defending by the Flyers) or the puck movement was so off, that attempts didn't hit home (bad passing by the Devils).  It makes it difficult to identify who was good on offense tonight.  Despite the goals, can I say no one really stood out?  Maybe Zajac for going 12 for 19 on faceoffs, scoring a goal; but then I realize he missed the net four times and got blocked twice, highlighting his poor shooting accuracy tonight.

I'm sure most will hate on the power play, and understandably so. Tonight, the Devils got 3 of them, including a short, 25-second 5-on-3.  I'm not mad that the Devils didn't score on the 5-on-3, it's a mere 25 seconds. The Flyers won that faceoff, cleared it, and by the time the Devils got back into Philly's zone, it was done. I was more disappointed that a little cheap hook by Patrik Elias ruined the overlapping power play after the 5-on-3.  I'm even more frustrated at what I can say about the power play.   The plan on the power play was not to just get the puck to Ilya Kovalchuk so he could shoot it; the team did indeed mix it up tonight.  Yet, because the passing wasn't so good for the Devils all night long, they could not get open looks to put good shots on net.    

I repeat: No, they didn't rely on one player (Kovalchuk) to just fire the puck tonight.  Yet, they managed one shot on net and, more importantly, no goals again.   What has to change?  The personnel are the people you'd want on a power play.  Normally, the idea is to move the puck around until there is an open shot.  Yet, they did not make the Flyers' PK sweat too hard.  I honestly don't know and I wonder what Lemaire and the coaches can even do on it. Maybe they should have just said, "Get the puck to Kovalchuk, Kovalchuk - fire away."  I don't know.

Once again, a poor offense limits the Devils, doesn't keep the other team honest enough, doesn't build on the two goal lead, doesn't build on a quite-possibly-decent third period performance (7-1 shots for NJ), and a few quality shots with a few breaks are enough to win the game for the Flyers. Great for them, they're in a playoff race. Awful for New Jersey, though.  While the Olympic break is coming up - apparently, not a moment's too soon - the team's (and the fan's) confidence sorely needs a boost that can only come from a win.  Once again, the Devils did not succeed and the fans are restless.  Forget getting there, they already are.  I can't imagine the team feels great either.  Jacques Lemaire had this to say, as reported by Gulitti after the game:

"Tonight is a good example," Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said. "Tonight we found a way to lose. We just found a way to lose. It’s that simple. We talked I don’t know how many times about having short shifts—in the room, before the games, in practices, behind the bench. And we still have long shifts. The very last goal, we’re tired. When you’re tired, what do you do? You can’t run. You can’t skate. You can’t chase nobody. You just stand. That’s what we did. It’s too bad because we were fine. We were OK. Even though it’s not one of our best game. At least we (could have got) a chance to win in a shootout or maybe us getting a goal in the last minute."

Fair enough, coach. We're all very interested in what you will do for Friday's and Saturday's game to fix this.  Sure, not having Salvador because Gagne accidentally struck him in the face tires out the defense. But last I checked, the forwards could have been shifted with more balance even without Parise in the lineup.   Moreover, if you're talking about long shifts, why in the world is Ilya Kovalchuk being sent out for entire power plays at a time?  OK, maybe a few less shifts may not make a big difference and maybe wouldn't have tonight. Still, it is inconsistent with the "short shift" philosophy that you emphasize to the team.

There is some good news, according to this post-game post from Tom Gulitti, Parise's and Salvador's injuries are considered to be minor.  Hopefully, they will be back in action soon.

Despite how badly the Devils and Flyers looked, the result remained the same tonight. A 3-2 loss to the Flyers and only two more games left for the Devils to avoid seriously limping into the break.  Please leave your educated and well-thought out thoughts and feelings in the comments.

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