New Jersey Devils Suffered on Special Teams, Lose to Philadelphia Flyers 4-1

The New Jersey Devils lost to the rival Philadelphia Flyers 4-1. The main culprit were the two special teams. By no means was this a pretty game. There were lots of sloppiness on both sides. Offenses struggled to get sustained attacks in each others' end of the rink. Passes bounced off blades of sticks or missed their mark. Board play was particularly gritty with both teams just going at each other physically first and playing for the puck second. Loads of penalties were called and the referees still let a lot go for both teams. The only aspect of this game that wasn't ugly were special teams play. Unfortunately, that was one-sided in today's affair at the Rock. The visitors just dominated on special teams.

The Flyers power play was absolutely on point today. They've received five opportunities and those lasted four minutes mostly due to two power play goals scored. Ten seconds into Adam Larsson's interference penalty, Scott Hartnell tipped Kimmo Timonen's shot from the center point past Wayne Simmonds and Martin Brodeur. That goal made it 2-0 in the second period. While the Devils responded with a goal of their own later, that power play tally would hold up as the game winning goal. Later in the third period, Hartnell made the Devils pay for another penalty: a (stupid) delay of game call on Ilya Kovalchuk for clearing a puck over the glass. The Flyers held possession around the perimeter until Hartnell skated in between Bryce Salvador and Dainius Zubrus into the right circle. He's open, Claude Giroux sets him up, and Hartnell slams a one-timer to the top left corner. The Flyers power play only had four minutes of a man advantage, but with two goals on five shots, that's all they needed. The Devils' PK units weren't amazing for once and it cost them dearly.

As usual, the Devils power play was the opposite of amazing. Yet, in my opinion, today's game was the final straw. The Flyers were reckless all game long and they handed the Devils power play after power play. Philly took a lot of dumb calls and so the Devils had six power play opportunities lasting 9:17. The end result of all of them were a mere eight shots on net. I'm surprised they even got eight, since some of these opportunities yielded no shots on net at all. Down a goal, the Devils had two power plays in the third period and got only one on net. They had two power plays in the first period and not only got two shots on net, but allowed a three-on-one shorthanded rush that Martin Brodeur had to bail them out on. It's one thing not to score, but it's another to waste opportunities and settle for outside shots with no support. On the Flyers' power plays, there were screens, there were crisp passes, and players moving around. On the Devils', there was little movement beyond the pointmen, there wasn't any variety, and the passing wasn't on point. I really do not know how Adam Oates still has a job running power plays. Maybe I'm wrong and he really doesn't. Whoever it is needs to quit and have someone else in charge because it's getting ridiculous.

The annoying thing about all of this is that I feared this would happen. In my preview for this game, I said the Devils would be wise to keep this game at 5-on-5. As it turned out, the Devils were the better team at 5-on-5. They out-shot the Flyers in each period at even strength, 22-14. They out-did them in Corsi at +11. They even tied them in 5-on-5 goals at 1-1. The Devils' own attack suffered from a lack of presence in the slot, not able to get to rebounds or pick up loose pucks in front. Yet, they were at least getting into the Flyers' end and getting space to get shots off. The Devils were better than the Flyers in 5-on-5 play today. Yet, they got stupid with their own discipline, they remained stupid on the power play, and now Devils fans feel angry and stupid a game like this ended up at 4-1 because of special teams.

After the game, in this post-game post by Tom Gulitti, Peter DeBoer regretted not sending a message to the top teams in the league about the Devils' quality. Well, it's going to repeat if the special teams (today) and third period issues (Boston) aren't addressed. That's on the coach and the players, of course.

I have a links to stats and a highlight video of today's game after the jump. Please visit Broad Street Hockey if you want to know what the Flyers faithful think for some reason.

The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts

The Highlight Video: Here's a video of today's game from NHL.com:

The Debut of a New #12: Alexei Ponikarovsky did make it to Newark for today's game and had a nice debut. He's now wearing #12 and was slotted at left wing alongside Jacob Josefson and David Clarkson as expected. He threw some good hits; he went into the boards well; and he even scored a goal. The goal itself was fortunate, Ponikarovsky re-directed Matt Taormina's shot with the heel of his stick and it just fooled Ilya Bryzgalov. It would turn out to be his only shot on net, and 1 shot on net really isn't much. Though, if that one shot is a goal, then great. In terms of possession, he was a +6 in Corsi after going against several Flyers units. That's quite good. Considering he played the night before and with two guys he wasn't at all familiar with as teammates, I'm pleased with his effort today. He already looks like a huge upgrade of Mattias Tedenby, Tim Sestito, Steve Zalewski, Ryan Carter, and whoever else was put at left wing on the third line this season.

The Illusions of Attempts: According to the event summary, your leaders in shooting attempts for New Jersey were Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Anton Volchenkov with five each. Volchenkov aside, it's usually a good thing to see Parise and Kovalchuk lead the way in this regard. Moreover, Parise put three on net and Kovalchuk had four shots on goal. However, Parise and Kovalchuk each only had one shot on net at even strength and they both came in the third period. Their other shots were on the power play and as evidenced from today's power play experience, they weren't all that great. Volchenkov managed to get more at evens with two shots on net. It belies that both Parise and Kovalchuk didn't really do all that much going forward.

Moreover, Adam Henrique was great at the dot (9-for-10) but he had all three of his shots this afternoon in the first period. Beyond that: nothing. While Kovalchuk's Corsi was quite good at +7, Henrique was a +5, and Parise was a +2; they didn't really generate much on net themselves. They did better than their opposition, but that's about it. So the Henrique line really didn't have a great game after not having a great game against Boston. Is it enough to split it up and try something else? I don't know. A few games ago, this wasn't happening; but then again a few games ago, Kovalchuk was hot and carried the unit. Let's see how it goes against Buffalo.

By the by, I didn't forget about the Elias line. They did, well, not as good as the Henrique line. They actually managed fewer shots on net at evens and in total than that line. They also weren't as positive in Corsi. While I know they saw a lot of Giroux and Hartnell, that they were more muted than the Henrique line on offense leaves a lot to be desired. Maybe the top six needs to be jumbled up a bit if this continues?

Let's Review a Quote: Speaking of Kovalchuk, he had this interesting point about the offense after the game. Per this post-game post by Tom Gulitti:

"All the shots were from the outside and no screen," Kovalchuk said. "I can play goal and save them. It’s not really tough for a goalie, especially a guy like (Ilya) Bryzgalov."

I will agree that Bryzgalov saw a lot of these shots cleanly. I will even say that Bryzgalov played a rather good game today. The Ponikarovsky goal was a re-direction in front, that can't really be his fault. I can't agree that the shots were all from the outside. Just look at the GameCast at ESPN, which charts out where shots were taken. Did the Devils take shots from the perimeter? Of course. That happens in almost every game by almost every team. By my count from the GameCast chart, the Devils had 13 shots up close and in the slot. That's not a team sitting in the perimeter all game long.

Those are areas where it's desirable to shoot and the Devils did get there. Would more screens would have helped? Definitely. The Devils forwards would have been smart to just drive to the net more often to at least be in the general area of a possible rebound. They could have been better. Yet, I can't agree that the Devils took 31 mostly weak shots that had no chance of getting in the net. Usually, the Devils don't even get to 31 shots period in regulation.

Even Strength Defense: Pretty much everyone not named Kurtis Foster looked good on defense at even strength. The Devils only allowed 13 shots in 5-on-5 play and the fourteenth one at evens was an empty net goal. That small amount speaks to how well the Flyers attacked at evens and how solid the defenders were. I'm not saying they made no mistakes, but one can't complain about holding a team playing sloppy hockey to very few chances on net.

The only one out there among the six that didn't look good today was Foster. He didn't always make the right decision with the puck; he wasn't good along the boards; he knocked a puck to Wayne Simmonds so he can ice the game with an empty-net goal (he should have gotten an assist for that); and he was horrid at the point on offense. The last point applies particularly to the Devils power play. Among his misplays of the puck; his one decision to pinch led to a 3-on-1 shorthanded rush where Brodeur bailed the team out. He wasn't completely nightmarish, his +5 Corsi value is evidence he didn't get torched repeatedly. Then again, he played quite a bit behind Kovalchuk and Henrique, who were notably positive possession players today. Still, he was limited to only 11:56 of ice time at even strength and that was the right call. Peter DeBoer must have realized from the Boston game and through today that Foster shouldn't be getting prime minutes.

Picture Time: Since I've added all of these detailed thoughts and observations about today's game later than usual, I've decided to do something special to make up for the difference. Let's look at three pertinent pictures from today's game. All of them were captured from the highlights of today's game at NHL.com.

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This picture is just as Wayne Simmonds passes the puck to Matt Read, who scored one-timed it far post past Martin Brodeur. Anton Volchenkov lost the puck in the corner to Simmonds. Jacob Josefson went over to help there, instead of minding the slot; therefore, there are two Devils catching up. Foster must have assumed Simmonds would have went around the net if he won the puck, so he came around the net from the back end. He got frozen here because Simmonds stopped and looked to make a pass. Foster looks like he's in a position to stop or impede the pass, but he can't because his stick isn't on the ice.

Therefore, no one is really in a position to do anything to Matt Read, who's just going to one-time it. He hit it perfectly and so Brodeur had no real chance on this one. David Clarkson comes in way late and all he can do is bump Read after he scores. Perhaps he thought Volchenkov would win it and he could be in a position to transition; but his assumption failed. Still, I can't pin this on Clarkson as much as I can on Josefson's help failing and Foster putting himself in a position to not make a play.

1-21-2012_ga_2_medium

This picture comes with a zoomed out camera, so bear with me on the particulars. The man at the center point is Kimmo Timonen and he just fired a shot. It gets past a kneeling Adam Henrique and the white jersey just inside the right circle gets a piece of it. That man is Scott Hartnell, who gets credited for the goal here. In seeing this live, I thought Brodeur was screened by two men and Wayne Simmonds got a piece of it. I was mistaken. Only Simmonds was in Brodeur's grill and he didn't get a touch on that puck. Hartnell's deflection was enough to sail the puck high enough while retaining most of it's velocity to get past a screened goaltender. That was the first PPGA.

1-21-2012_ga_3_medium

Lastly, we come to this third picture. This is also during a Devils penalty kill and, yes, this also ends with a goal for Philadelphia. The Devils are set up in their box, a common PK formation. A common way to beat such a formation is to play around the perimeter until there's an opening. The Flyers were doing just that as Claude Giroux looks up from the corner. He saw Hartnell skate by Salvador and Zubrus into the spot on the ice where he's located. Because Zubrus does very little to impede Hartnell when he should have stuck with him or got up on him, Hartnell is open in the middle of the box. Patrik Elias and Volchenkov are too far away to do anything to Giroux; Hartnell beats Zubrus, and so Hartnell has a free shot on net if the pass is good. The pass was excellent so he hammered a one-timer and it beats Brodeur for the second PPGA. While not technically in the slot, allowing one-timers from a similar distance is a recipe for failure and that's exactly what happened.

The purpose of showing these three pictures is to highlight what happened on each goal against. It's not like the Flyers did anything special to score on either of their three non-empty net goals. The first and arguably the third came on busted coverage leading to a dangerous one-timer. The second was a deflection on a shot from distance that Brodeur didn't really see all that well to begin with. None of them were fancy plays. Brodeur paid the price statistically because 3 goals on 19 shots doesn't look good as a percentage; even though the failures were elsewhere. The team paid the price on the scoreboard and I do hope the Devils coaching staff reminds them of how it all happened at the next practice.

Optional Discipline: I'm sure the coaches are going to re-emphasize the importance of staying calm, cool, and collected during the game. A game against a rival tends to get feisty, but the Devils did themselves very few favors in how they responded. The Devils took 10 penalties, including 3 misconduct penalties. Two came near the end and they were for Brad Mills and Eric Boulton; the costly one came earlier when Clarkson got 10 minutes near the end of the second period. I suppose he got it for spitting some nasty verbals at the ref or Wayne Simmonds after a penalty was called. While David Clarkson isn't exactly a feature player, he does shoot quite a bit and that's good in a game where the Devils are losing. DeBoer was forced to mix up his forward lines to accommodate the unavailable winger, and I'm sure he's not happy about that.

Misconducts aside, the Devils six minor penalties, which is well more than they should have. Kovalchuk's delay of game call was avoidable and it proved costly. (Frustrating as it was, Timonen did the same exact thing later in the third period and the Devils did nothing with it.) Larsson's interference call could have been avoided. Dainius Zubrus didn't have take a swing after the whistle to get a roughing call, putting two right wingers in the box for a good chunk of the third period. Brad Mills didn't have to trip anyone. At least Clarkson's interference call came from a dive (and the ref called it wrong at first). While they weren't as bad as Philadelphia, the calls did lead to their demise this afternoon. The Devils have to be smarter than they were in today's game.

The Overrated Timeout: Peter Laviolette called a timeout 3:06 into the second period. The Flyers scored their first goal of the game 9:30 into the second. So it stands to reason that the timeout got the Flyers going, right? I don't think so.

Yes, the Flyers started off sluggish in the second period and the Flyers did manage to get a few shots on net afterwards. However, they had 5 shots in between the timeout and the goal and only one of them was within 30 feet of the goal. In fact, one of them was just a dump-in that Brodeur had to stop. The Flyers still allowed four shots against in that same timeframe. Most importantly, there were stoppages in play in between the timeout and the goal, including a TV timeout. Both coaches and players on both teams had several times to talk things out during those stoppages. As nice of a story it is to say: timeout led to superior play by Philly, it wasn't like the Flyers turned into steamrollers and the Devils were flattened. That didn't happen. As for the goal, just look at the first picture in this very post and examine the situation. That's not a result of good coaching or a good pep talk, it's a result of one Flyer winning a battle, realizing his opponents are mixed up, and taking advantage. That's all.

If you want to praise Laviolette for anything, then let it be for not running his forwards into the ground when Jaromir Jagr left the game due to a lower body injury and Zac Rinaldo leaving with an upper body injury - as noted in the NHL.com recap. He managed to keep the minutes of his remaining forwards down and he mixed up his lines, leading to some varied match-ups for the Devils. Not that they did great at 5-on-5 or suddenly won those match-ups, but he had fresh guys for their special teams, which carried them to a win. As an aside, Danny Briere suffered a concussion, but he played through it just like past Flyers before him - like Eric Lindros. More seriously, I hope he'll be OK.

I Hate the Devils Power Play: I already went over why prior to the jump, but I figure I'd say it again. If Adam Oates can't come up with more and better plays for this group of forwards, then DeBoer has to consider someone else to take that duty. It remains clear and apparent hours after this game that Oates is not the man to coach the Devils' power play.

The Big Game Is Upon Us: The Devils lost a sloppy, ugly game to their runner-ups in the hated rival department due to some awful special teams. That sucks and I don't expect Devils fans to be anything but unhappy about the 4-1 loss. However, this was not as big of a game as Tuesday's game against Buffalo. The Devils goal for this season is to get in the post season and the games against teams like Winnipeg, Washington, Florida, Ottawa, Toronto, and now Pittsburgh are the important ones. The Devils are directly competing with them for playoff spots. While the Sabres are behind that group of teams, the Devils can ill afford to come away with nothing in the game. A losing streak will be very damaging in the standings, and handing the Sabres points could lead to another competitor in that playoff bubble. Therefore, Tuesday's game is a bigger game for the Devils. Let's hope the team can sort their problems out in their next practice and come out with a better effort.

Again, I thank you for your patience in waiting for a fuller recap. While discussion has already started (and I answered some of the earlier comments in this very recap), I still want to know what you think about today's game. What did you like out of the Devils' performance? What, among their many issues, do the Devils need to improve upon for Tuesday's game? Can the Devils make those improvements? Please continue to leave your answers and other thoughts on this loss in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.

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