Game 40 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Philadelphia Flyers

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG(HD); Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (10-27-2) vs. the Philadelphia Flyers (24-10-5)

The Last Devils Game: There was no real start, the second period was good, and the third period featured one of the worst/flukiest goals allowed this season while the rest of the team played like it was the first.  And so the Devils lost to the Minnesota Wild 2-1 in a new way to frustrate themselves and the fans who paid to see that garbage.  Needless to say, such anger carried into my recap.

The Last Flyers Game: The Flyers went into Detroit to take on the perennial powers that are the Red Wings. True to form for this season, the Flyers came out with a good result. A 3-goal second period was enough to carry the day as they held Detroit to only 2 in the third period.  The win was the team's first in the city since 1988, and so led a positive recap at Broad Street Hockey.

The Last Devils-Flyers Game: After the suffering the ignoble distinction of losing to the New Jersey Devils, the Flyers got their groove back at home on December 4.   The Devils played a miserable game at home to kick off the month, and so went into Philadelphia and put up a not-so-good effort in a 5-3 loss to the superior Second Rate Rivals.  At least it was one of the few games in December where the Devils scored more than 2 goals in a game, not that it didn't make it any less frustrating.  Here's my recap of that game, and here is Travis Hughes' take at Broad Street Hockey.

The Goal:  Showing up is a pretty good one.  The Devils didn't against Carolina, were late to every action taken by the Canes, and so they got wrecked 4-1 and Martin Brodeur took the fall for the other skaters playing like crap.  The Devils didn't against Minnesota; and while the Wild didn't take full advantage of the Devils' total lack of offense, they still went up 1 and out-shot the Devils 8-1. I know Jacques Lemaire is working the players hard in practice, yet in the last two games, this team didn't wake up to play competitive hockey until the second period.   I'm confident Lemaire's not telling them to take it easy for the first 20 minutes, so it falls on the players to start off well tonight.  It won't necessarily lead to a win tonight, but it will help make sure the Devils aren't in a hole going into the second period against a team too talented to take periods off against.

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game.  For a Philadelphia-based take, please visit Broad Street Hockey.

As I thought after Tuesday's game, it was a long Wednesday of practice for the Devils according to this report by Tom Gulitti.  This is a good thing.  If nothing else, the players need to see what it is they did right, wrong, and then go out on the ice to try and get better. That said, I can't say I like what Lemaire is doing with the lineup based on what Gulitti saw in practice.  First off, Johan Hedberg is getting the start tonight.  Let's go back to Monday. When Lemaire announced that Hedberg would start against Minnesota, he said the following - reported here by Gulitti:

 

When asked his reasoning for starting Hedberg, Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said, "Win the game. I went with Marty, didn’t win. Come back with him (Hedberg) and we’ll see after."

OK. Well, Hedberg had a good game against Minnesota but didn't get the win and got torched on misreading a dump-in.  But he didn't get the win in his start - the reason why Brodeur didn't start on Tuesday - so he...plays again? 

Then there's the fact that Nick Palmieri practiced on a line with Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac. Yes, that threesome got the Devils' lone goal on Tuesday; but that's because everything on that play went perfectly right on one play.   Just one play.  The rest of the game, they weren't as effective.  Yet, they could be together for a second straight game.  Meanwhile, Mattias Tedenby is properly back in the lineup on a unit with Jason Arnott and Vladimir Zharkov. This could be a good unit, but this leaves Patrik Elias to center Jamie Langenbrunner (not bad) and Brian Rolston (whyyyyyyy).  The fourth line may be without Adam Mair, though, as he was used on a fourth defensive pairing (read: the not-going-to-play pairing) with Salmela; leaving David Clarkson with Tim Sestito and Rod Pelley.

I can respect some of these moves, but I feel the Devils would be better off if Lemaire would re-unite last week's effective line of Elias, Arnott, and Langenrbunner; switch Palmieri with Tedenby for the second line; and swapwhatever fourth liner looks decent with Rolston.  This way Kovalchuk isn't the only one on his line who can carry the puck in; Elias-Arnott-Langenbrunner can beat up on Philly's second pairing, and Rolston is kept away from any offense instead of being just useless on it.  (Ideally, I'd scratch Rolston and play Dainius Zubrus, but he didn't practice on Wednesday and won't play tonight, so that's out.)

At least, we'll see Lemaire make in-game changes.  Hopefully they won't keep Zharkov and Tedenby to under 10 minutes apiece in favor of Sestito or Rolston.  And, hey, the defense hasn't left a hot mess on the ice last game in their own end; so switching out Salmela for Matthew Corrente makes sense.

Moving onto the Flyers. Yeah, they'll never be the most hated rivals of the Devils, but they are a very good team.  As much as I don't like praising Philadelphia, they're clearly playing to their level of talent and got even better by dumping Michael Leighton (well, not in terms of cap-management, but talent-wise). 

What to expect from Philadelphia pretty straight forward.  They can score plenty of goals.  The Flyers boast 4 players with 30 or more points this season in Mike Richards (13 G, 24 A), Claude Giroux (16 G, 19 A), Jeff Carter (16 G, 17 A), and Danny Briere (18 G, 12 A).  Behind them is a solid supporting cast which includes Scott Hartnell (10 G), Ville Leino (9 G), Andreas Nodl (9 G), and James van Reimsdyk (9 G).  And Nikolai Zherdev (13 G), though, according to Stephen Whyno of Philly Sports Daily, he may be out tonight with the dreaded "lower body injury."   All the same, the Flyers can boast one of the highest goals per game average in the league with 3.33 and they average 33.2 shots per game. They are a strong offensive team.

They are also a gritty team, to a fault.  The Flyers do average 14.8 PIM per game, the fifth highest average in the league.  Moreover, they have been shorthanded 168 times this season, the second highest total in the league.  The Flyers penalty killers have been in the middle of the road this season, killing off 81.6% of their shorthanded situations.  While the Devils' power play has hit a lull after a streak of success, a Flyers team that tends to go off the rails can be played to their advantage.  Assuming the Flyers don't hit them so much they're intimidated, or remain discipline in their physical play, of course. 

The Flyers are a little short on defense, though.  Of course, anyone would be without Chris Pronger.  The big, hulking defenseman suffered a foot injury on December 17 after blocking a shot.  He is getting closer to return, though. According to Frank Seravalli at Philly.com, Pronger has been cleared to skate on Wednesday.  Still, he'll not play tonight, Saturday, or anytime soon.  Based on Philadelphia's game against Detroit, I would think Pronger's minutes will be spread out again amongst Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros, Matt Carle, and Braydon Coburn. All four played at least 20 minutes in Detroit and given that the other defensemen available are Oskars Bartulis and Sean O'Donnell, the Flyers would be wise to rely on those four again tonight.   None of these guys are offensive powerhouses, but with the forwards they have, they just need to get stops and get the puck up to them. 

I'm not certain who will start in net tonight for Philadelphia, but given that the Devils are shooting less than 6% as a team, it may not matter if it's the young Sergei Bobrovsky, the older and well-traveled Brian Boucher, or a shooter tutor.


GP MIN W L GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2010 - Sergei Bobrovsky 26 1472 15 6 63 2.57 742 679 .915 0
2010 - Brian Boucher 15 824 8 4 32 2.33 386 354 .917 0

Based on the stats and New Jersey's offensive ineptitude, I'm not sure if the Flyers can go wrong with either choice.

Of course, something weird can happen and the Devils could just out-play these guys and win.  I mean, the Flyers are great this season but they're not perfect.  Or even if they don't out-play them, just hope Hedberg stands on his head, keep the game tied somehow, and win in a shootout - which is how the Devils beat these guys way back in November.   We shall see what happens tonight, hopefully, the Devils show up to play at faceoff instead of coming in the second period.

The Gamethread will be up later, closer to game time. I'll be in my usual seat for this one, with some attempted comments from the mobile during the game. In the meantime, please feel free to discuss today's game in the comments. If you want to post any news updates (or corrections or what-have-you), then please do so in the comments with a link to the source. Lastly, thank you for reading. Let's go, Devils.

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