Game 1 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Philadelphia Flyers

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG; Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils vs. the Philadelphia Flyers (1-0-0)

The Last Flyers Game:  The Philadelphia Flyers opened up their 2011-12 regular season campaign on the road against Boston.  The scoring was confined to one period, but the Flyers took the lead 2-1 after the first and held on to win.  Ben Rothenberg has this recap of the game at Broad Street Hockey.

The Goal:  Obviously, the goal is to win the game.  I don't think there are any Devils fans that want to see them lose to the Second Rate Rivals on Opening Night at The Rock.  That's not the purpose of this section. It's to highlight one part of the game that I believe the Devils will need to perform to win this game.  For this first game, that would be discipline. While the preseason is now meaningless, I can't shake the fact at how well the Flyers looked on the power play in their two games against New Jersey.  They have the talent to set-up and wait out a PK to find the perfect seam to create a shot.  They don't even need to do that, though.  They went 1-for-4 against Boston and their PPG came out of a simple breakout, where Claude Giroux sliced through Boston's defense to score.  Gifting the opposition power play after power play is a great way to lose, and especially so against a team like Philly.   Therefore, it's in the Devils' best interests to avoid the dumb stuff and stay out of the box.  This applies to everyone and not just the fourth line.

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For the other side, please visit Broad Street Hockey.

The New Jersey Devils are down to 23 players on their active roster.  On Tuesday, they traded center David Steckel to Toronto for a fourth-round pick; and on the following day, the Devils signed Petr Sykora to take his roster spot.  Defenseman Anton Stralman remains in limbo, hanging around the team without a contract.   I can't imagine that he would if he didn't think he'd be given an offer any time soon. Why one hasn't been given yet, who knows? The Devils could have simply moved Mark Fraser or Rod Pelley down to Albany since they already cleared waivers.  Maybe they're still not sure? Either way, Tom Gulitti had reported on the expected lineup based on recent practices on Friday:

Forwards: Zach Parise-Patrik Elias-Petr Sykora; Ilya Kovalchuk-Dainius Zubrus-Nick Palmieri; Adam Henrique-Jacob Josefson-David Clarkson; Eric Boulton-Brad Mills-Mattias Tedenby.

Defensemen: Andy Greene-Adam Larsson; Henrik Tallinder-Mark Fayne; Bryce Salvador-Anton Volchenkov.

Goaltender: Martin Brodeur.

I really like that this expected lineup has Dainius Zubrus centering Ilya Kovalchuk and Nick Palmieri.  It's something I've harped on Talked Red and here before.  I feel Zubrus' experience and better possession game will help out that line more than Jacob Josefson, who didn't necessarily impress in preseason in that role. Besides, I'd rather have Josefson get weaker competition on a third line so he is less likely to get dominated. Plus, he's played with Henrique before in Albany so the two have some familiarity with each other, which could provide a little help tonight.

What I don't like is probably the first thing you saw with this lineup: Mattias Tedenby playing right wing on the fourth line.  Tedenby may have more skill than Brad Mills and Eric Boulton has together right now, and getting limited minutes is a bit of a waste.  I suspect and hope that Peter DeBoer will move Tedenby about the lines during the game instead of tethering him to two "energy" guys.   I'm also not a big fan of pairing Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov since the Flyers could find plenty of success against them with speedy players.  Both are experienced enough to know where they need to be positioned, so I don't think they'll do horribly unless they're forced to play a very mobile game. 

However, it's the only possibility considering the rest of the top-four.  Pairing Henrik Tallinder and Mark Fayne is sensible since the two did so well together.   Putting Andy Greene with Adam Larsson will help the rookie along in his first NHL season game. Larsson was impressive in preseason and played a ton of minutes.  In that regard, I'm not surprised that the expected gameplan will be to give him big minutes with Greene.  Should Larsson suffer, though, DeBoer could switch him with Volchenkov to protect Larsson and strengthen that first pairing.    A lot of eyes will be on the new #5, but I do stress that he's 18 and is still developing.   Don't expect the world from Larsson just yet.

Going back up front, there will be a lot of attention paid to that first line.  With Travis Zajac out, Patrik Elias makes sense at center alongside Zach Parise and I look forward to speaking highly of how excellent their possession will be.  At least, that's my hope.  It won't be easy tonight as they'll likely see a lot of Chris Pronger.  Petr Sykora rolled with both in the final preseason game and didn't look out of place.  Can he keep up now that the games will count? We shall see.  If not, it's not the end of the world.  It'll just mean there will be more flux at right wing.

Moving onto tonight's opponents, the Flyers actually have an edge from playing a road game already. They went into Boston, took in their Stanley Cup pre-game banner-raising ceremony, and beat them in a close one.  There won't be any "first-game jitters" out of the Flyers and I'm sure they'll be particularly pumped to play a rival tonight.  Don't expect an easy game at all tonight.  Then again, what game is truly easy?

While they don't have the Honorless Captain or The Actor anymore, the Flyers still have plenty of players who can make Saturday feel longer than it should.  Their defense is led by Capt. Elbows himself, Chris Pronger, and he'll be logging big minutes in all situations.  Kimmo Timonen is one of the better defensemen in the league and based on the lineup they rolled out on Thursday, he's going to be on their second pairing.    That's not good news for the Devils' forwards.   At forward, the Flyers are now led by the dynamic Giroux, the burgeoning James van Reimsdyk, the skilled but fragile Daniel Briere, and the also-burgeoning Jakub Voracek. All are offensive talents and given how they're split up, you can be sure the Devils will have to do well on more than just one match-up.  Behind them is an interesting group of forwards.  Jaromir Jagr also has a lot to prove at age 39 and got off to a good start in Boston. Wayne Simmonds may use horrible slurs but he's a hard working player and can be a pain to play against.  Matt Read and Sean Couturier made the team out of their preseason and will look to make their marks early.  In terms of beef, well, Scott Hartnell and Maxime Talbot will have you covered in that category.

The big name will be Ilya Bryzgalov, now and for the rest of their season.  He's the centerpiece of all of the moves the Flyers made this summer.  He was offered and signed a fat contract with a franchise that has been done well in spite of of having a "name" goaltender.   Bryzgalov is a good goalie, but get ready for the narrative storm should he be successful.  Already the first salvo was fired after Thursday's game with Mike Milbury proclaiming the Flyers would have lost the game last season - when they didn't have Bryzgalov.  Hawerchuk isn't buying it over at Arctic Ice Hockey, Geoff Detwiler at BSH isn't a fan, and I can't agree either.  In due time, should Bryzgalov and the Flyers put up a good early record, it's going to be more than just Milbury saying it.   Regardless, Bryzgalov is a good goaltender and he'll give the Devils forwards plenty of trouble.   Though if preseason means anything, the Devils may want to consider going stick-side if they get him moving. Then again, it doesn't mean much since it's preseason.  Just fire all kinds of shots at him and build on what works. 

In the bigger picture, I wouldn't call the first game of the season a must-win, even though I personally would love to see the Devils smack the Flyers around for 60 minutes and 2 points.  What is a must-win is one of the first three games of the season simply because they're all at home. The Devils didn't win a home game last season until November 12, their eighth of the season.  It's paramount that DeBoer and the players avoid such futility at a minimum.  A win tonight would go long way of assuring everyone that what happened last season was an anomaly. 

One final note, the New Jersey Devils players will have a memorial patch on their jerseys for Karel Rachunek and Alexander Vasyunov, who both died in that horrible plane accident in Yaroslavl earlier this summer.   According to the Devils' website, the patch will be worn for a second time for their first road game October 15 and the jerseys will be auctioned off.  Proceeds will go to the families of Rachunek and Vasyunov.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on tonight's game.  What do you want to see from tonight's game other than a Devils win? Who on the Devils will you be watching closely?  Who do you think will have a big night?   Are there any other aspects to this game that you think will be important? How happy are you that the Devils are now playing games that count?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts on today's game in the comments. Thanks for reading.

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