Before tonight, the New Jersey Devils came off a win in Montreal and the Philadelphia Flyers came off a loss to Pittsburgh. Their fates would be flipped tonight. Right from the get-go, the Philadelphia Flyers scored, made better passes, took advantage of some giveaways and poor defensive play, seemingly got more bounces, and never looked back. I don't think it was an issue of whether the New Jersey Devils "showed up" or not, but the Devils' intensity level was not where it needed to be to start and they struggled throughout the game.
One could attribute the performances of each team to their respective positions in the NHL. The Devils are already in the playoffs and are battling with Pittsburgh for the Atlantic Division lead, which means a #2 or #3 seed in the East. The Flyers have been free-falling as of late, finding themselves in eighth place with ninth and tenth not too far behind in terms of points. Basically, from a playoff standpoint, the Flyers needed to win this game much more than the Devils. And it certainly seemed that way on the ice.
Simply put, tonight was a bad game from the New Jersey Devils. A sign of things to come? Given the last two weeks, probably not. Is it another reason why we should hope the Devils don't face the Flyers in the first round? I think so. A disappointment? You bet - finishing the month at 2-4-1 on the road is nothing but disappointing.
NHL.com has the official recap up complete with all of the stats from tonight's game. For a Philadelphia perspective, please check out Broad Street Hockey later on. If you'd like to read my additional thoughts on tonight's game, then please continue after the jump.
With a game as bad as this for the Devils, I think it's helpful to itemize all of the issues. Let's go.
The first 10 minutes. The Flyers literally went ahead right from the get-go. Matt Carle was found wide open as the trailing player, took it in the high-slot, scored a goal early that I'm sure Martin Brodeur would like to have another shot at, and that kicked things off. By halfway through the first period, the Flyers were not only out-shooting the Devils 8-2 but Ville Leino tacked on a second goal when he was open at the crease as the Devils defense were just chasing the Flyers. Not that Brodeur had an awful night, but the Flyers got some seriously good chances early. The Devils just couldn't respond with any good passing of their own, much less any shots. The Flyers looked confident and were rolling, whereas the Devils looked like they were just stuck in first gear.
The shooting was largely pedestrian. Is Brian Boucher a great goalie? No. Was he tested tonight? Not really. The Devils ended up outshooting the Flyers 33-25, but were they mostly quality shots on net? No. Tonight was a clear example of quality over quantity. Besides, when you're down for most of the game, you're going to take more chances to just throw pucks on net. At least Ilya Kovalchuk scored to ensure it wasn't an easy shutout for Mr. Boucher. (Even so, he took 5 shots on net, but missed twice and got blocked 4 times - his decisions to shoot could have gone better.)
The power went out on special teams. The Devils went 2-for-2 on the power play against Montreal, a big key in their 4-2 win on Saturday. Tonight, the Devils went 0-for-5 on the power play against the Flyers. Even when it was only 2-0 or even 3-0 Flyers, even one successful power play could have changed the nature of the game in for New Jersey. A lifeline, if you will. Instead, the Flyers PK units and Boucher stood tall in light of taking some really dumb calls. Despite the opportunities - four in the second period! - the Devils never took advantage.
White and Mottau haters have saved this game as evidence. After playing very well for most of March - after playing very well last night - they were both pretty poor tonight. Their positioning, specifically where they weren't, played a big role on three of the five Flyers goals scored. The Devils' defense as a whole didn't have a good night (especially in the slot), even Paul Martin didn't look sure-handed as he normally did; but White and Mottau stuck out like sore thumbs on the blueline.
Martin Brodeur wasn't amazing, not by a long shot. The goal against Carle went off the bottom of his glove and in. He missed blocking Danny Briere's pass across the crease, so Leino got the puck for his shot in front. He was partially screened by Scott Hartnell on the PPG by Kimmo Timonen; and I'm pretty sure he was fully screened on the fourth goal, a shot from the point by Lukas Krajicek. It's not that Brodeur didn't make some tough saves he did; but it wasn't one of his good nights either. Not anything like he did on Saturday. Jacques Lemaire must have thought so as well, as Yann Danis came in the third period. Truth be told, given all of the other problems the Devils had, I don't think Danis starting the game would have changed the final result. I'm sure some will argue otherwise, but whatever.
- The puck movement was shifting in and out of focus. On some shifts, the Devils moved the puck up ice just fine until they got into the Flyers' zone and made some questionable decisions such as forcing passes through defenders and not dumping it into a good position. On others, the Devils couldn't get into the Flyers' zone with some issue, like a botched pass or poor breakout. Even early in the game, the defensemen and backchecking forwards would almost hand the puck right to a Flyer, continuing their attack.
- Intensity for fighting? Check. Intensity for scoring goals? Er... The game became quite chippy and led to more than just a few fighting majors and roughing minors between both teams. Perhaps that's expected as it was a rivalry game. But by the end, I got a sense that the Devils only became more energetic than the Flyers was during fights and scrums. I really don't care who really "won" the fights because the scoreboard clearly stats who truly won tonight. I do wish the Devils used some of that energy in the first period or on their power plays in the second instead of wasting it on scraps in the third period.
Let's not get it twisted, the Flyers played very well. In contrast to all that I just listed, the Flyers played a very good game of hockey. They passed the puck very well. They started off the game looking to control it and they did just that. They got two early goals but didn't sit on the lead, choosing to pick their spots to score - and succeeded. The Flyers defensemen contributed three goals whilst combining to block 26 shots. Simon Gagne took advantage of wide open space to score in the third to truly ensure the win. Despite taking so many penalties, their PK looked strong. Like I said at the beginning of this recap, the Flyers wanted this game more - and they got it. Let's not forget to credit them for it, as much as it sucks to lose to a rival for the fifth time out of six games.
When the shooting is poor, the puck movement isn't good enough, the defense has struggles (including one pairing in particular), the goaltender isn't playing out of his mind, the power play wastes chance after chance, the start of the game went awry, and the opposition plays well, then what other result can you possibly expect? The Devils played a bad game, the result is deserved, and no fan should be disappointed. If you'd like to see the highlights to tonight's game, then here they are from NHL.com:
The big question now is whether this was just a bad game, or a grim sign of things to come. We won't know the answer until Tuesday.
Thanks to Steve for making the GameThread, those who commented and read that, and all of you who read this. Thanks to Chris at The Program (along with Rick and Mike) for inviting and having me on during the game. If you're that interested in hearing how I sound for about an hour or so, then check out the archives of the show at their main page here. Please leave all your thoughts, feelings, concerns, complaints, corrections, and compliments (I doubt there will be any of these) in the comments.