One thing you have to say about the New Jersey Devils this season is that they are rarely boring. There's always something going on in the games that they play. Be it something good, something bad, and usually it's both. The Devils have had their worst moments and biggest triumphs in the third period. They've made improbable comebacks and improbable meltdowns. They've done it all, sometimes to the our chagrin. Today's game against the Philadelphia Flyers resulted in a 6-4 win, and it was done in one of the more agonizing ways possible.
The Devils completely blew away the Flyers in the first two periods. They started off the game well and just rolled on. They got power play opportunities and succeeded by going 3-for-7 in this afternoon. They got two 5-on-3 situations and scored on both of them. They got a shorthanded goal and then a rebound within the final minute of the first period to turn a good 1-0 lead into a huge 3-0 lead. The Devils added two more goals within the first two minutes of the second period to really put the Flyers in a hole. A sixth goal on their second five-on-three situation surely put the nail in the coffin. Thanks to an effective power play, the Devils heavily out-shot the Flyers 30-17 in the game's first 40 minutes. While even strength play was stunted due to all of penalties called, the Devils were only -2 in Corsi after the second period. They were up by six goals and they weren't being out-attempted by much - and those extra Flyer attempts were mostly blocked, as evidenced by the Devils' +5 in Fenwick. You couldn't ask for a better performance than what the Devils did in the first and second periods. The Flyers were undisciplined, unfocused, and they became undone. The Devils were dominant and they made the Flyers pay for their reckless play. The Flyers could get little in response except on their own power plays, which they did not convert on then. It was all good for the Devils after the second period.
With a six goal lead, the Devils relaxed and let up a bit from an intensity standpoint. They played their depth players more often and all they had to do was to avoid doing dumb things. The former was sensible, as the Devils do have a game against Pittsburgh at 1 PM tomorrow. The latter should be obvious, but still has to be a point of emphasis given the situation. Surely, the Devils, who have blown three goal leads a handful of times this season, can just play out the third period without issue. It's just 20 minutes, they can't blow that up, right?
Well, the Flyers came very close to doing that. It didn't start off so quickly. With the home team, who has been an offensive force this season, down six goals, one would expect them to take the game to the Devils. However, there is a huge difference between the opposition just attacking more often and getting out-shot 24-1. Seriously, the Devils just drowning out there as time went on and could only get themselves some occasional relief. Again, it wasn't like the Flyers came out and destroyed them immediately. No, it took some time. When Wayne Simmonds scored on a second rebound attempt over Johan Hedberg's stretched out body, it was no big deal. Just a consolation goal. Then Jaromir Jagr hammers home a shot off a fortunate re-direction on Johan Hedberg's flank and it's 6-2. Then after a physical fracas, the Devils take a stupid penalty with their top two defensemen on the PK in the box and Claude Giroux slams in a great shot to make it 6-3. Johan Hedberg had no chance on it; but the effect was massive.
The Flyers PP finally got the board and all of a sudden, the crowd at the Wells Fargo Center is alive, the Flyers are pumped, and it's apparent the Devils are getting worked. Jakub Voracek buried another rebound to make it 6-4 and Devils fans have fallen from happy to either incredibly nervous, worried, angry, or some combination of the three. All of a sudden Kurtis Foster clears a puck out of the crease and you're just thinking to yourself, "Please stop this shot Moose, please someone get to the puck, please someone get a clearance, please someone get the puck down the other end of the rink." The Devils lost the plot on the ice and had to calm down. They eventually did, but Philly made it a game when it really wasn't less than 20 minutes ago and they pressed hard. The Flyers pulled their goaltender and the Devils were stymied in their attempts to ice the game. Fortunately, the Devils would hold on to win 6-4. The final third of the game certainly wasn't boring; though I think I speak for all Devils fans that I wish it was a nice and easy third period. It was anything but.
Essentially, the Devils were brilliant for the first 40 minutes and blew away the Flyers. Then they were atrocious and let them come back in the third. The Devils' initial lead was too large for Philadelphia to overcome, but it brings to mind that old cliche: "Hockey is a 60 minute game." Perhaps the Devils will remember that in the future and act accordingly, hopefully by tomorrow afternoon. If it wasn't for the big six goal lead, then we're talking about a heartbreaker instead.
Believe me, there were some big positives among the negatives and I'll discuss what I felt were the important ones after the jump. For the opposition's point of view, Kreider at Broad Street Hockey has this recap.
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 Game Highlights: A game like this one was loaded with highlights. Ten total goals, all kinds of saves, and a smattering of big hits makes for one eventful highlight video from NHL.com. Check it out:
The Redemption of Foster: Kurtis Foster was benched in Thursday's game against Montreal. He was poor in his own end and he directly contributed to a shorthanded goal against. He didn't play after that goal and completely deserved the punishment. With Adam Larsson out of the game, Foster was expected to get back on the ice. Today, he redeemed himself by playing one of his best games as a Devil since being acquired.
Foster was a big reason why the power play was so effective this afternoon. All five of Foster's shots on net came on the man advantage and he scored twice. In fact, he scored on both two-man advantages the Devils earned. He switched sides up above the circle from where Ilya Kovalchuk was normally set up, he received the puck and just blazed a shot past Sergei Bobrovsky for the first one. The second one was more or less a great shot. Foster was on his usual side and just unleashed a good shot that not only beat Bobrovsky shortside, but sent him to the bench to be replaced by Ilya Bryzgalov. Foster even picked up an assist, as he got the puck along the boards that eventually led to Zach Parise scoring on a great individual effort. That's three power play points from Foster, and that alone is enough to say he had a great game.
I'll go a bit further, even though he was limited in his minutes with only 8:20 played at evens. I think he made the most important defensive play for the Devils. After Voracek's goal, the Flyers were energized and highly motivated to go get that fifth goal on the board. They crashed the net and the puck got loose in the fracas. Foster was by the crease, not unlike where he was in the Rangers game before the first goal against. This time, Foster learned from his past mistake and cleared that puck away from the crease. If he hadn't, then the Flyers score and it's a one-goal game. Foster preserved a lead that was in serious danger of completely falling apart. Foster wasn't named one of the three starts of the game by today's attending media, but I actually think he was one of the best Devils on the ice in this afternoon.
Thank You Adam Oates: I've been hard on the power play this season and assistant coach Adam Oates. For the most part, the Devils' power play has been inconsistent at best. They've wasted opportunities, they've allowed a staggering number of shorthanded goals, and they don't generate enough shots on net, much less goals, in general. When they've been bad, I've pointed it out.
However, credit must be paid where credit is due. The Devils power play was simply fantastic. The power play was a massive reason why the Devils won today's game. Sure, the Devils got the benefit of two fairly long five-on-three situations but they made the most out of both of them. The Devils didn't squander any of their power plays, especially those important 5-on-3 situations. The players were able to set up in Philadelphia's end without too many problems. The skaters weren't statues, as they moved around enough to create some space. They were able to get shots to Sergei Bobrovsky, and they got a lot of rubber on net. Over seven power play situations, the Devils got an amazing 16 shots on net. 9 happened in 5-on-4 situations and the other 7 were in the 5-on-3 situations. The power play actually got more shots on net than at even strength; that's how effective they were in this afternoon. Of course, they scored on three of them: Foster's shots from distance and Parise going goal-line and jamming in his own rebound around Bobrovsky.
The big thing about the goals was that they were important. Foster's first goal was the first goal of the game. Parise's goal came early in the second period, made Scott Hartnell pay for being a reckless fool, silenced the Wells Fargo Center, and helped set up a bigger Devils lead. Foster's second goal, in retrospect, was huge as it made the Devils' lead just large enough that the Flyers couldn't overcome it. The power play was great and I have to say that Oates did a good job. I know it won't always be like this, but it was wonderful to see everything clicking this evening.
21 Minutes and a Second: As great as the Devils' power play performed, a significant part of the game was played by special teams. Referees Ghislain Hebert (who worked the Devils-Montreal game) and Eric Furlatt got to use their whistles quite a bit and they pretty much had to do so. I know it's a rivalry game, but the Flyers were simply reckless and downright nasty and the Devils got dumb at times too. The result was that both teams took 11 penalties and had 7 power plays each. While the Devils made the most of their power plays, the Flyers didn't waste too many of their own. The Flyers got a total of 13 shots on net with a man advantage and they did get one through on their sixth power play in the third period. The Flyers have been a very good team on the power play this season, and so it shouldn't be that much of a surprise that the Devils PK got worked over. Hedberg had to be at his best in these situations and he was for the most part. The one he didn't get came from a one-timer in the slot by Philly's leading scorer; that's not really a terrible one to allow.
What frustrates me about the calls was that the Devils handed the Flyers three power plays in the third period. OK, I was frustrated with the first two. The third one was with 30 seconds left as Andy Greene had to take down Jaromir Jagr to prevent him from shooting. Since the Flyers had their goaltender pulled, the penalty killing situation allowed New Jersey to just ice the puck and keep the clock going - which they did accomplish. Zach Parise's tripping call hurt because the Flyers got on the board a few minutes earlier and the opportunity just gave them more chances to get back into the game. That was dumb.
While Philly didn't convert that opportunity, they did on the power play created by Alexei Ponikarovsky slashing and breaking Andrej Mezaros' stick. The call itself was entirely avoidable and it was a stain on Ponikarovsky's otherwise good performance. Making matters worse was what happened prior to the penalty. After a freeze by Hedberg, Zac Rinaldo slewfoots Zach Parise. A fracas among the players on the ice ensues and somehow Ilya Kovalchuk and Brayden Schenn get into it. Rinaldo was called for tripping, but the post-whistle shenanigans sent Schenn and Kovalchuk to the box for a roughing minor and a fighting major as well as Simmonds, Bryce Salvador, and Anton Volchenkov for roughing. Yes, the Devils had their top two defensive defensemen and penalty killers in the box for two minutes. They had to watch as Giroux made Ponikarovsky pay for his penalty with a one-timer in the slot and when Voracek put in a rebound to make it 6-4. Ponikarovsky's penalty alone was stupid, but it was compounded by what happened after Rinaldo's hit.
All told, the Devils got 7 penalties in the third period alone. I'm not faulting the refs at all; I'm faulting the Devils for not being smarter about their actions as the game went on. They knew they were leading, they knew the Flyers were doing some dirty things, and they know that the Flyers can definitely bring it on the power play. They didn't act that way and it played a role in how Philadelphia turned a 6-0 deficit into a competitive game.
Keeping them Honest: I feel bad for Sergei Bobrovsky. OK, he wasn't very good today; but it's not his fault the guys in front of them gave the Devils two five-on-three situations or that their idea of defense in the first two periods was to stand around and do something physical sometimes. Still, he was yanked after the sixth goal on New Jersey's 23rd shot on net. He played 28:22.
So the expected starter for Sunday's game, Ilya Bryzgalov, was in net for about half of the game in regulation and the Devils only got 8 shots on net. 7 of them were in the second period, which was OK to see. But only one measly little shot in the third period? C'mon son. That's just terrible.
Again, I understand and expect the Flyers to dominate the third period since they're down six goals, they're at home, and they want to get something on the board. Fine, score effects normally result in the leading team playing most of the game in their own end. I get that. But going from -2 in Corsi to -20 is simply abysmal. Forcing the Flyers to defend only a handful of times in a 20 minute period after kicking them up and down the ice in the last 40 is just atrocious. Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, and company were able to get plenty on net but were all shutout in the third. Only Alexei Ponikarovsky (+6) and Steve Bernier (+1) finished the game positive in possession and even they did little in the third. Put it this way: Bryzgalov could have read a book in the third period.
What's worse that the Devils got too loose down low on defense led to three of the Flyers' four goals: Andy Greene got lost where Simmonds was and he was too late to stop him; Anton Volchenkov went up which meant Bryce Salvador had to get his man, so when the puck bounced off Volchenkov, Jagr was wide open; and Voracek was similarly wide open in a 5-on-5 situation. Hedberg had to play really well because if he wasn't on point, then the Flyers could have more easily made the comeback.
The defending around the crease was woeful and resulted in goals against. Combined with the lack of offense and the Devils were just setting themselves up for failure in the third period. The big takeaway - other than the win - should be that the Devils need to keep the opposition honest even when they're up by 3 or more goals. When they don't, it can come back to bite them. It happened in the past (e.g. first game against Florida, last game against Washington) and it very nearly happened again. Let's hope we don't see it in the future.
Congratulations: Steve Bernier picked up his first point as a New Jersey Devil. He won a puck behind the net and impressively backhanded it into the slot. Ponikarovsky hammered it into the net, which made the game 5-0 at that point. The third line, those two and Jacob Josefson, was quite good.
Yes, Big Z Got Away with One: Ilya Kovalchuk's shorthanded goal put the Devils up 2-0 in the first period and it came with some controversy. The goal came off a rush created by Dainius Zubrus. Zubrus won the puck from Giroux at the point by, well, crashing into him and taking him down. Should it have been a call? Yeah. As it turned out, the non-call didn't decide the game. The Flyers were playing poorly regardless and they made up for it in the third period anyway with goals of their own. It happens. The shot from Kovalchuk, the second of his three points (yes, six in the last two games, he's hot now), was still awesome.
Chumps: I wanted a game that didn't feature a lot of special teams given the Flyers' excellent power play and the Devils' not-at-all excellent power play, and it didn't turn out that way at all. Fortunately, the Devils' PP was magnificent. I also wanted a game where there wasn't a lot of rough stuff given that the Devils played two physical games against the Rangers and Montreal earlier this week. I sort of expected it from the Flyers given their roster, but not to the extent seen this afternoon. Scott Hartnell was a punk; he got whistled for high-sticking Ponikarovsky while Dainius Zubrus scored with 0.4 seconds left in the first period. Three other calls could have been made on Hartnell, since he punched Ponikarovsky, held him, and slashed at his glove, knocking it off, as the goal was scored. Wayne Simmonds plays with a physical edge and got away with a big elbow of his own in the first period. Zac Rinaldo is basically a goon and his slewfoot on Parise and blindside check on Josefson should warrant some kind of supplemental review. Yes, he was called on both plays, but they were dangerous. Just as dangerous as Kimmo Timonen's hit from behind on Parise during New Jersey's first power play and Braydon Coburn's cross-check on David Clarkson during Rinaldo's penalty. Those were whistled as well, but my main point is that the Philadelphia Flyers are still carrying the mantle of Broad Street Bullies. They think they're tough, they are tough, and they're going to let you know about it even to the detriment of what goes on in the game. The Devils can hold up their heads high that they made them pay for their penalties. Everyone else, just know that the Flyers are still a bunch of chumps.
As far as I know, there are no injuries for the Devils after all that happened today. I hope I'm not proven wrong as the team will need to be as healthy as possible going into Sunday's game against Pittsburgh.
One Final Note: Against the Rangers, the Devils scored 3 goals. Against Montreal, the Devils scored 4 goals. Today, they scored 6. I believe their offensive slump going into the All Star Game weekend is now officially and utterly over.
That's my take on today's game, now I want to know yours. How much did you love the first two periods? How much did you hate the third period? Do you believe Kurtis Foster redeemed himself with his performance today? Do you think the same of Adam Oates? Who else on the Devils impressed you? Who do you think could have and should have done better today? What would you have liked to have seen differently from today's performance aside from the entire third period? Will the Devils be up and ready for tomorrow's game after this one? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on today's game in the comments. Thanks to those who discussed the game in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust during the game. Thank you for reading.