The New Jersey Devils went down to the Wells Fargo Center to take on the Philadelphia Flyers to begin their preseason. While the Devils looked good for most of the game, the Flyers clawed back in the third period, put on pressure in OT, and ultimately won in the shootout. The Devils lost 4-3, but do pick up a point in the standings. The NHL.com event summary is available here; and the game summary can be had here. If you're interested in the Flyers' point of view on this game, then please go to Broad Street Hockey for their recap.
Which means absolutely nothing since this is preseason. The whole point of these games are to prepare for the upcoming NHL season. Both teams played a significant number of veterans, to get them in sync for the season. Both teams had a few young players take some key roles so the coaches can see whether they fit in to the team's plans in a few weeks. And everyone has a lot of rust to work off. There were a lot of uncharacteristic turnovers, sloppy passes, miscommunications, and other poor decisions by both sides that we wouldn't stand for during the regular season. After all, it's the preseason - this is the time to get all of that out of their collective system. It's all about performance much more than results.
That said, this recap won't just focus on who did and didn't do well in Devils red tonight. I have a few words about the team's performance as well as some of tactical moves by John MacLean in tonight's game. I would caution everyone - including myself - not to read a whole lot into it. It is not only one preseason game, but the very first one for both teams. Most, if not all players, will get a chance to redeem themselves or prove that their good game wasn't a fluke. Tactics will certainly change with the personnel and further practice.
Please read on after the jump for an account of tonight's game. Thanks to everyone in the GameThread for joining us in the comments.
First off, let's get one thing out of the way: the broadcast. Or at least, the lack thereof. It was very disappointing to find out that not only was there no local coverage, but that the NHL Network coverage was blacked out to many in New Jersey. Your choices for viewing were either to not be in the area, get Comcast Network or 610 AM WIP, or to illegally watch the game via an internet stream. Devils fans are right to be unhappy about this; and I would highly recommend that the team to be frank with the fanbase about why there was no local broadcast. We want to see the Devils play whenever they play, and to do so legitimately. I don't agree that the Devils need to buy a network over one preseason game not being aired, but the Devils would do well to at least explain the situation. Especially if it turns out that the Devils have no control over the matter; that can
Getting back to hockey, there were a number of noticeable differences in the Devils' approach to the game besides just the roster. Defensemen jumped up on offense when the opportunity presented itself. In their own end, the Devils tended to drift deeper as the Flyers pressed forward early. Moving the puck up ice, the Devils went to the corners, noticing that Philly was giving them up; but they didn't always cycle down low. On their two full power plays tonight, the Devils had units with two defensemen on the points. The 3-on-4 penalty kill in overtime showed a small triangle. In general, the Devils played an up tempo game, and sent up one forechecker. It's ridiculously early, but keep these tactics in mind in the next few games. They may be signs in how MacLean coaches the Devils in 10-11.
What was distressing in the bigger picture was how the Devils followed up a great second period with a poor third period. That second period was great: 2 goals, outshooting the Flyers 11-4, and generally controlling the flow of the game. The third was dire. It took the Devils nearly 9 minutes to get a shot on Sergei Bobrovsky (he faced 5 total); while the Flyers were pounding Mike McKenna, ultimately finishing with 14 shots in the period. I don't know whether the Flyers' vet-laden offense finally cracked a Devils defense; but they kept counter-attacking over and over. McKenna did very well, only beaten by a Daniel Briere rocket from the point. Not a bad goal allowed, but a lead given up is still a lead given up. I can understand the Flyers being the better team in OT since they had a power play; but the third period will certainly be up for review in the next team meeting. It was pretty bad.
Still, John MacLean stayed positive in his post-game comments according to this post by Tom Gulitti. He praised a few players, and noted that the younger guys did do well against a nearly full-strength Philadelphia team. I'd like to discuss some of those praise-worthy players; but first, let's talk about the ones who did poorly.
Truthfully, there weren't too many who were bad tonight; but Bryce Salvador and Andy Greene did not have good games. Salvador looked slow on the ice, he got caught in the wrong position on both Flyers goals in the first period, and he held James van Reimsdyk's arm so blatently, the refs called him on it. In overtime. He played 19:43 total, and I'm a little shocked he did that much.
Greene wasn't much better. No shots on net, he had a few boneheaded decisions and turnovers in his own zone, and he got torched by Jeff Carter en route to his goal in the first. Greene wasn't as slow as Salvador, and I admit he looked better away from Salvador. Why MacLean put them back together later in the game, I do not know. With the lack of offense on the blueline, Greene's expected to be productive every night - no shots on net is unacceptable.
Fortunately, there were several more Devils players who deserve praise for their game tonight. The top two New Jersey players were Alexander Urbom and Henrik Tallinder. MacLean kept them together as much as possible, an and that was smart because they were good. Both looked poised in their own end. Both moved the puck well. Both were faster than I (and some of the Flyers) expected. And when one made a mistake (usually Urbom since he's the rookie here), the other covered up the mess without much of an issue.
They each got a ton of minutes tonight: 24:03 for Tallinder, 22:10 for Urbom. And the pairing only yielded one error. Tallinder tipped a loose puck away from a rushing Flyer, only to go to Daniel Briere on the right side. Briere went up, Urbom held his position, and Briere unloaded a rocket to tie up the game. Oops. But those two contributed to two of the Devils' goals, so they both come out ahead anyway. The first: Urbom fed Tallinder, who took a waist shot from the point, tipped in by Adam Mair. The second: Urbom did well to keep the puck in play, dished it to Tallinder, who fired it high on Leighton through traffic - Jamie Langenbrunner scored on the rebound. I think Tallinder will turn out OK in New Jersey.
You don't want to make conclusions after the first preseason game, but Urbom supporters have to feel good about tonight. John MacLean was certainly pleased
Continuing on with the youth: Matthew Corrente threw a few big hits, had a couple shots, and got the secondary assist on Dainius Zubrus' goal in the second period. Corrente played 22:30 total, got a little PK time, blew up Nikolai Zherdev with an open-ice hit int he first period, had a few different partners, and looked solid. He needs to have a good preseason, and I think this is a good first step. Mark Fraser started off slowly, but he was steadier as the game went on. Alexander Vasyunov should have gotten your attention with his hustle, backchecking, and courage along the boards (e.g. taking three cross checks from behind by Bill Guerin). No, he's not strong. No, he didn't take a lot of shots. But he wasn't a waste at all on the ice. He grabbed my eye every time he attacked the Flyers' zone. Brad Mills showed off that he can be tough, destroying Ben Holmstrom with a big hit, racking up 6 more "official hits," and not taking any guff from any of those classy, polite, well-meaning Philadelphia Flyers. The only real youngster I wasn't impressed with was Nick Palmieri, he was just quiet tonight. He didn't react so well when moved among the third and fourth line.
I'm of two minds on Jacob Josefson. He had good shifts, where he worked hard down low to get pucks (he drew a minor on Braydon Coburn for boarding) and get back on defense. He meshed well with Dainius Zubrus and David Clarkson; and he won 7 out of 13 faceoffs. On others, he tended to float into the slot, and he somehow played 18:51 and didn't register a shot on net. His only one was his failed shootout attempt, come to think of it. Overall, I was pleased with how he did; but I'd like to see more initiative on offense the next time he's out there.
Some of the veterans did well tonight. I felt Johan Hedberg and McKenna were solid in net and deserve kudos. Hedberg was beaten on rebounds, one by an uncovered Darrel Powe and one by Carter, where he burned two d-men and whacked it in above the ice. Neither goal was his fault, and he weathered an early storm by Philly. McKenna weathered the third period surge well, again, only beaten once. Maybe he should have had his glove up higher on Briere; but I don't think most NHL goalies stop that shot either. Both went up against a Flyers team that had their stars at forward (Mike Richards, Carter, Claude Giroux), a tall task given the defense, and they didn't panic. Good work.
The Patrik Elias-Jason Arnott-Jamie Langenbrunner line was pretty good. While it wasn't good to see Arnott do little with two breakaways, that he was sprung for them was good to see. It was also good to see him go 13 for 21 at the faceoff dot. Langenbrunner got a goal, which certainly made up for him blowing the first Devils power play with his own tripping of Oskars Bartulis. That's a notch on his belt. Patrik Elias put up 7 shots on net and orchestrated a lot of the good work that line did. But none of these three were as impressive as Dainius Zubrus.
Whereas Salvador played like he didn't care about seeing Albany at times, Zubrus played like he wanted to be a Devil throughout the game. He went hard into the boards, he stickchecked to force loose pucks where he could, and he was hustling like a Amtrak train flying through the Northeast Corridor line. His goal was great and he worked well with Clarkson - who also played pretty well - on the cycle. This is the type of performance Devils fans want to see from Zubrus. It was proof that he's ready for the season. Hopefully he'll be in New Jersey to do just that.
Again, those were the vets that stood out. Marcus Nilson had a few decent shifts, showed some energy, but faded in others. I like his stickhandling, and he can make some good passes - most notably one across the slot to Adam Mair, who Bobrovsky robbed in the third period. Mair had a better night. He got a goal, threw some hits, jacked his jaw a little, and provided some good energy. Not so great on faceoffs, going 5 for 11, but I don't have too many complaints. I felt he fit in best in between Mills and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (who did fight twice), but he wasn't bad with Nilson either. Do I think either player have improved their chances? Given the other young players who did well and those yet to play, not yet.
Of course, none of the guys battling for roster spots have earned anything tonight. We still have no real answers as to what the Devils will do this season, who they should trade, and who makes the team. We still won't have any until the first set of cuts in training camp. All the same, it's good to keep a close eye on how these players are doing, so when we do get those answers, we know what to expect.
Thanks to everyone who checked out the GameThread either by reading or commenting. Of course, thank you for reading. I'd like to know what you felt about tonight's game. Who impressed you? Who disappointed you? What do you want to see going forward? Please leave your answers and other relevant thoughts to tonight's game in the comments.