On Thursday night, the New Jersey Devils hosted the Philadelphia Flyers and lost 4-2. While the game was a tight, defensive affair with not a lot of shots fired by both teams, Philadelphia preyed on New Jersey's mistakes for each goal against. It was pretty bad to watch and yet another disappointing and frustrating loss in a season full of them.
With that, along with the memory of several losses like that this season in mind, the New Jersey Devils put out a better effort this afternoon against the Flyers. The Devils actually attacked the opposition; they made sure that Daniel Briere, Ville Leino, and Scott Hartnell wouldn't ruin their day again; and their power play even got some shots on net for a change. It wasn't enough, though. The Devils still lost to the Flyers 2-1.
I'm not going to tell you that the Devils played a great game and were just unlucky to lose. That would be false. The major points The Devils took 12 minutes in penalties; mostly stupid things like Henrik Tallinder high-sticking Jody Shelley early in the game, Anssi Salmela hooking a guy in a way that's been consistently called since the lockout; and even a too many men on the ice call. The Devils also didn't come out strong today, as the Flyers controlled the play in the first period until they were up by two goals. Even at the first half of the third period had the Flyers rush up more before the Devils turned up the intensity; definitely not what you want to see when down by a goal.
Amid all of this, your goals against were one shot that slid through Johan Hedberg's 5-hole, an open shot down low on a power play where Hedberg was at the post but on his knees (guess where it went in), and a Devils shot that deflected off a Flyer skate to give it a perfect arc into the net. None of these were defensive breakdowns or someone not covering a man, which is a surprise and a feat in of itself. Just two softies by Moose and a fluke that beat Brian Boucher.
My basic take on this game is simple: the Devils played a competitive game against the Flyers, and the Flyers did well to hold on to their lead. It's nothing to celebrate, especially a loss to a rival; but the way the Devils played was a far sight better than the last game between these two teams and many of the other losses they suffered this season. To ignore that or to claim the Devils only showed up at the end is false.
Please check out Broad Street Hockey for a Flyers-based take on today's game. I have further thoughts after the jump.
Here's the game summary. Take a look at the shots on net. The Devils actually out-shot the Flyers in every period. Granted, the Flyers getting two goals early helps in that regard (and in Corsi); but it's evidence that the Devils didn't flop in this game. Given that the second period has been a particular problem this season, that the Devils out-shot the Flyers 12-8 and got a (fluke) goal is pretty good.
Don't misunderstand me, just because there wasn't one or more bad period by NJ, there were shifts and stretches where the Flyers just put the Devils to the sword. The Flyers were wise to keep on attacking even with a lead, keeping the Devils honest in their own end. There was the occasional rush up ice, and others were more traditional with a dump-in and a few passes to set it up. The 19 shots since the second goal against are evidence that the team didn't sit back and relax on the lead couch.
The game summary is not only instructive of the penalties called against New Jersey, but also of the goaltenders. Hedberg faced 10 shots and was yanked. The first goal allowed went through his five hole on a weak shot on an angle. Not a good goal to allow. The second was a power play goal against; as Danny Briere had an open shot on Hedberg's right side. hedberg got to the post, but he stayed on his knees, giving Briere the whole top of the net. Briere didn't hit it quite right, so it just elevated into Hedberg's arm and in. Still not a good goal to allow. As noted before the jump, these were not the result of defensive breakdowns. They were just soft goals against. Jacques Lemaire put in Martin Brodeur, who had a very good game in relief - stopping all 19 shots by Philadelphia and being victimized by James van Reimsdyk's shoulder (which thankfully drew a goaltender interference call).
James van Reimsdyk had an otherwise fine day. He really stood out on the rush, where he would get a lane with the puck, and drive in towards the net regardless of whether a Devil defenseman was on him or not. Two of these stick out. The first had Colin White try to keep him to the outside, did his best to do so, but van Reimsdyk's weak shot the spot between Hedberg's legs for the first goal of the game. The second had him nearly past Henrik Tallinder, but the defender wisely fouled him - the one penalty by the Devils I can understand in retrospect in this game.
The event summary has van Reimsdyk with 3 shots on goal, 2 misses, and 18:28 of total ice time. A very good statline. Other Flyers who stood out both on the event summary sheet and in the game was Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. The Flyers captain had 5 shots on net along with 2 blocked; and Carter put up 6 with a blocked shot and 2 misses. If those two were driving the play forward, then they were definitely making the most of it when it happened. The event summary showing Briere as the only one between him, Leino, and Hartnell with any shots on goal (3) justifies that line being shut down after a great Thursday night.
Believe it or not, per the 5-on-5 ice time charts at Time on Ice, van Reimsdyk, Richards, and Carter weren't all on the same line. Richards and van Reimsdyk were usually joined by Andreas Nodl; while Carter mostly rolled with Claude Giroux (who was largely invisible today) and Darroll Powe (ditto). I leave it to you to decide whether that makes either of those performances more impressive. All the same, those three forwards stood out on the Flyers tonight.
Moving onto the team that's supported here, there's quite a bit to point out. Ilya Kovalchuk with 5 shots on net is more of what we'd like to see from him. Kovalchuk also drew a slashing call out of Richards in the first period when Kovalchuk took him on with the puck - and won. It wasn't just the Kovalchuk show, as Vladimir Zharkov had a very good game of his own. He put up 5 shots on net, his speed gave the Flyers' defense some problems, and he was ever so close to scoring his first NHL goal in the third period only to be unable to lift the puck over Brian Boucher's stretched out left pad. I feel bad for the winger for not scoring, but he definitely was a positive for the Devils' game today - enough that Lemaire gave him more than 10 minutes of ice time.
Other notable Devils performances include Patrik Elias putting up 4 shots on goal along with 2 blocked and 2 missed, despite looking way more talented that his linemates of Dainius Zubrus (an OK game from him) and Brian Rolston (surprisingly not a complete waste). Tim Sestito and David Clarkson each put up 3 shots while still on the fourth line, which is a good contribution on a line that gets limited minutes. Jason Arnott had 3 shots on his own and one really impressive back-check to break up a 2-on-1 in the third period. OK, the latter's not in the event summary; but it's definitely worth noting that he hustled back, forced the puck carrier behind the net, and ended the Flyers' attack with a clear after some additional help by Zharkov on the backcheck.
Lastly, some team stats on the event summary. Faceoffs were definitely in Philly's favor today, as the Devils won 42% of theirs. It's nothing to panic, but a downside to the Devils' game today. More positively, the Devils out-shot the Flyers by 10, 31-21, at 5-on-5 play. Sure, score effects make this unsurprising; but it suggests the Devils aren't just showing up for the final 5 minutes or just here and there. I don't think one team out-shoot another by 10 shots at 5-on-5 without some decent play over a long period of time. Especially today since the Flyers weren't sitting on the lead. Yes, I'll say it - the Devils were decent at 5-on-5. That is a good thing.
A quick look at the Corsi chart at Time on Ice shows backs up the Devils' eventual control at 5-on-5. The Flyers are mostly negative with huge exceptions of Kimmo Timonen (+10) and Braydon Coburn (+12). Perhaps they deserve more respect. After all, each played over 20 minutes of ice time today, each attempted several shots (Coburn: 1 SOG, 4 blocked, 1 missed; Timonen: 4 SOG, 1 blocked, 2 missed), and played well with each other at 5-on-5.
You look at the Devils and they're mostly positive (even Rolston is a +7), with two notable exceptions of their own: Travis Zajac (-7) and Nick Palmieri (-6). Not that either was miserable today, but when they stepped on the ice, the puck tended to be getting shot in New Jersey's end of the rink. Plus, the Flyers appeared to have matched Timonen-Coburn with Kovalchuk (+1) and Zajac. No wonder Lemaire double-shifted Kovalchuk and moved the lines around as time went on. The Flyers had a good defensive pairing against that line and things didn't go well for Zajac and Palmieri in general today.
Everyone else on NJ did OK and the Corsi chart justifies one more thing: the team did better with Martin Brodeur in net. Hedberg was pulled after the Briere goal. Perhaps it was done because it was a second soft goal early in the game. But if there was a message sent either by the goalie change or the score to get their acts together, the Devils largely got it. I wish they were more consistent with it, especially in the first half of the third period; but at least the team did improve instead of letting the early 2-0 deficit get to them.
A few final general points before the last main one. Anssi Salmela definitely had his ice time cut to just over 7 minutes and deservedly so. His shooting only found Flyers bodies instead of Boucher; he took a silly penalty; he watched a few pucks go by (one that led to an odd man rush snuffed out because the Flyers botched the pass); and he was tentative all over the ice. I don't believe Matthew Corrente is better than him, but I think he deserves a game or two in Salmela's place. Adam Mair did very little today and also got only 7:21 of ice time. I'm not saying Mattias Tedenby would have changed the game, but another speedy winger with good puck handling skills would have been preferable to Mair just being there. I liked Mark Fraser's game today, he did well on both the PK and at even strength. I'm fine with him being on the third pairing if he plays more like this.
Last major point: Brian Boucher had a good game. Feel free to rationalize it by saying he faced perimeter shots or the Devils made him look good (?) or whathaveyou. Overall, he faced 33 shots, he's had screens and deflected pucks go on his person, and he had to go laterally more than just a handful of times. The only shot he didn't stop was an absolute fluke, no shame there. He's had a good season so far, and this game is another example of his good season. Simple as.
The Devils played a competitive game and the evidence suggests that. There's still more to improve, but it's an improvement over what has been seen in the first half of the New Jersey Devils' nightmare season. That shouldn't be ignored.
That takes care of my take on the game. What did you think about today's game? Did you think the Devils were truly competitive? What would you like to see different for tomorrow's game? Please leave your thoughts and feelings on tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to the commenters in today's gamethread; and thank you for reading.