The New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia Flyers both entered this game with winning streaks. The Devils and Flyers both played on the road last night. The Devils scored two quick goals within 14 seconds to escape Long Island with two points. The Flyers shutout the Maple Leafs, who also shutout Philly, and prevailed in the shootout for a win. Something had to give tonight and it was the Philadelphia Flyers who fell apart. The score was close but with the exception of the first 16 seconds of the third period, the Devils exploded in the third period for a 4-1 win.
Yes, the Devils took a game over on the ice and on the scoreboard in the third period, just as they have in each of their last four games - all wins. It's nice to see the Devils not struggle to keep a lead or outright lose the game after the first 40 minutes. It's even sweeter to have it all happen against divisional rivals if only for that extra bit of bragging rights that comes with being a fan of a team. Unlike the last three games, there was not much of a Devils swoon in the second period. The Flyers only surged for about five minutes or so, but the Devils still kept the Flyers at least honest if not concerned that the Devils would take a commanding lead. Overall, I'd say this was the most complete game the Devils have played in a while.
It was also one of the more dominating games the Devils have played. The Devils clearly knew the Flyers were without Kimmo Timonen and Andrej Meszaroes on defense and the skaters went right at them. They made the play go to the boards where David Clarkson, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Zach Parise, and almost every other forward at some point won a board battle to create a shot. The Devils were aggressive with their forechecking, which either slowed up the Flyers' breakout at worst or forced a neutral zone or defensive zone turnover at best. It even led to the Devils' third goal of the night. By those two parts of the game alone, the Devils just picked on the Flyers for all 60 minutes. The result were obvious. The Devils put up 31 shots on net with 23 at even strength while holding the Flyers to just 19 total and 17 at evens. The Devils owned in shooting attempts with a team Fenwick of +13 and a team Corsi of +18. The Devils drew a number of penalties which they took full advantage of because of the aforementioned weaker defense and converted twice. Sergei Bobrovsky was a man on an island at times, was beaten four times, and it could have been a lot worse from the lack of support he was getting. Simply put, the Devils beat up on the Flyers and it was glorious.
Of course, Philadelphia will not take this loss well on Tuesday when the two teams will play in the Flyers' building. Some of the Flyers didn't even take it well during tonight's game as the Rock saw witness as to why the Flyers have a bad reputation. All the same, the Devils took the game over in the third period after playing well in the first two periods against a strong opponent who won their last five games. That's a big result in my book as well as their fourth in a row.
For the opposition's take, please visit Broad Street Hockey where Travis Hughes has this short recap. For a few more thoughts on this decisive win, please continue on after the jump.
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: I have viewed this video in advance and I can confirm these are the full game highlights from NHL.com. I suppose the problem was with the Isles.
Milestone #1 - 650 Wins: Martin Brodeur won 650 games. I know win totals alone aren't really a great judge of a goaltender's quality, but a goalie that earns more than 90 wins than the second place all-time guy surely wouldn't get there if he was bad or overrated or a fraud or whatever. Brodeur definitely earned this win tonight. The Flyers didn't get a lot of shots on net but the ones they did were easily snagged by Brodeur. Plenty of pretty glove saves that drew chants from the crowd. Little motions like waving the blocker or chipping a puck away with the stick helped quell the Flyers' attack. The only reason why he didn't get a shutout was because Patrik Elias didn't pick up Claude Giroux going to the front of the net. There was little Brodeur or any goaltender could have done there without getting lucky, but that was the only blemish on his statline tonight. Brodeur was simply great in net like he has been in recent weeks. Congratulations for making it to 650, Marty!
Milestone #2 - 30+ Goals for Nine Straight Seasons: Ilya Kovalchuk scored his 30th of the season during a 4-on-4 situation in the third period that put the Devils up 3-1 and the Flyers into a land of misery. The goal itself was beautiful. Adam Henrique forces a turnover on the forecheck and went in alone on a breakaway. Henrique got his own rebound and played it back to Marek Zidlicky, who saw Ilya Kovalchuk wheeling around his defender. Zidlicky hit him with a great pass, Kovalchuk drove to the center, wound up his wrister, and put it top shelf. It was a great play and hitting the 30 goal mark for the ninth straight time further shows his quality as a player.
Overall, Kovalchuk had a great night. While he wasn't a shot machine like he was against the Islanders with only 3 shots on 3 attempts, he did end up +5 in Corsi going against the Flyers' top line of Giroux, Scott Hartnell, and Jaromir Jagr. That's quite good. In addition to the sweet goal he scored, Kovalchuk also contributed with two assists: the breakout pass that led to Patrik Elias' give-and-go PPG with Clarkson; and feeding Anton Volcheknov with a pass on a two-on-one rush up ice. That gives him 9 points in his last 4 games. He seemingly can't be stopped, just contained - even that didn't work out too well for him. Kovalchuk is just outside of the top 5 in the league in scoring right now (tied with Phil Kessel for fifth, actually) and he's just playing with so much passion and production. He's a joy to watch and a big reason why the team won their last four games.
Marek Zidlicky Appreciation Section: I'm still learning to pronounce his last name properly and I have to because he's keeps on having these excellent games and I need to give the man his due. He's making that big-in-quantity trade look like a steal for New Jersey. Zidlicky picked up two more assists and played an outstanding 18:42 at evens as part of a 24:05 night. He even got into the Kovalchuk role on the power play on the right side, shifting his position and made the same killer cross-ice pass Kovalchuk likes to do to Elias, which led to Zach Parise scoring. He even drew a roughing call on Wayne Simmonds late in the game which ensured the Devils win. That's not even the most impressive stat. Zidlicky was a +18 in Fenwick and Corsi. That is no joke. Zidlicky didn't just win his match-up, he outright embarrassed them.
The Power Power Play: Some Devils fans call the penalty kill the power kill because of the Devils' tendency to get better offensive chances on the PK than their opponent's PP. Tonight, it was the power play that was powerful. The Devils got five opportunities lasting 7:52 and they got 8 shots on net and converted twice. The first was simply a gorgeous give-and-go rush up ice where Elias split the PK unit up the middle and Clarkson put a backhanded pass in the right spot for Elias to put it up and over Bobrovsky's left arm. The second was more traditional with the Devils setting up and getting shots on net when available. Elias took the initial shot and Parise drove in between Braydon Coburn and Nicklas Grossmann to the puck in between Bobrovsky's glove and the left post. The goals were great; the shots were evidence of good work being done; and they made the Flyers pay for their crimes. Well done!
The Power Penalty Kill: Of course, the Devils' PK was strong tonight. The Flyers had two power plays, both in the second period, and they only got two shots on net. Neither shot was all that impressive either. What was impressive was seeing Adam Henrique get a clearance from his knees; Adam Henrique chasing a loose puck which caused a Flyers defenseman to blow up his own goalie as Bobrovsky went out to play the puck; and Adam Henrique forechecking along with Parise on a PK to kill more clock. Needless to say, I was impressed with Henrique's efforts tonight even if it didn't lead to a shot on goal. I almost want to argue he deserves the Calder just for his PK work. The units as a whole were just fine, but that's standard by now.
The Third Line of Power, Possession, and a Little Pain: David Clarkson, Jacob Josefson, and Alexei Ponikarovsky had one heck of a game. The line combined for 8 shots on net. They brutalized Andreas Lilja and Brandon Manning along the boards and on the forecheck. They did everything but score, though Josefson and Clarkson had their moments of coming close. They led the Devils forwards in Corsi; Clarkson was a +7, Ponikarovsky was a +6, and Josefson was a +9. Add one to those numbers and you have their respective Fenwick numbers. Their play tonight was a big reason why the Devils found so much success against the Flyers tonight. All three are doing great with each other and they've been a real asset to the team's success over the past month or so. May it continue.
The Giveaway: All attending fans got an ice pack courtesy of Atlantic Health. I wonder if any fans donated theirs to Bobrovsky given how much he had to move tonight after 11 straight games without a start. Turthfully, Bobrovsky was fine. It's not his fault that Nicklas Grossmann apparently doesn't know how to defend a two-on-one situation or Parise down low. It's not his fault Matt Carle can't keep up with Kovalchuk. It's not his fault that Andreas Lilja just sucks at defense. Watch as he gets blamed anyway. Such is the life of a goaltender.
The Flyers Flop in the Third: One defensive lapse by Elias led to a goal by Giroux. At 1-1, you'd think the Flyers and their loaded offense would go hard at the Devils. Nope, that goal was pretty much it for the Flyers. Their second shot of the third came from Coburn from distance minutes after Volchenkov scored. Their third shot of the third came from Coburn on a slapshot at the point less than after Kovalchuk scored. Their fourth and fifth shots on net came in close succession with under 3 minutes to play. Yep, the Devils held the Flyers to 5 shots on net with superior possession, an offense that kept pinning the Flyers back, a gameplan that emphasized a forecheck and board play where the Devils succeeded wildly, and a mentality to keep up the attack even with a lead.
Maybe an ice pack should have been given to Peter Laviolette, who got out-coached out of the building by Peter DeBoer. His head may still hurt after this one.
That Was A Lot of Words, How About a Shorter Summary of the Defensive Effort: OK, you're at the wrong site if you don't like a lot of words but I'll oblige a self-created strawman: Braydon Coburn led the Flyers in shots with 4.
A Listing of Good Things Jaromir Jagr Did at the Rock Tonight: First, he made that pass to Giroux that led to a goal. Second, he got stripped by Henrique which eventually led to Kovalchuk's goal. Third, he...
This Is Why Everyone Else in the NHL Hates You: The Flyers have the reputation for playing mean and dirty hockey and that showed up tonight. Lilja got away with four cross-checks on Clarkson as Clarkson kept the puck away from him; and later on that shift, he just tackles him and lies on him for several seconds. You can see this in the highlight video and it was just astonishing that the refs thought that was legal. It was similarly astonishing that they missed Scott Hartnell hitting Adam Larsson from behind. It was downright wrong that they didn't call anything on Manning for hitting Clarkson from behind, right in the numbers, into the boards. There were hooks, holds, and other beefs the Flyers tried to perpetuate all night long.
Fortunately, the refs did catch some of this nonsense. They did tag Maxime Talbot for a heavy retaliation after a legitimate interfering hit by Volchenkov in the third period. They did give Jody Shelley 2 and 10 for trying to start a fight well after the whistle. I'm glad Cam Janssen didn't agree so Shelley suffered. They had to give Zac Rinaldo four for high sticking Ryan Carter, who was near the end of a shift where he just was ruthless on the forecheck (more evidence it worked, the fourth line was getting offensive success). I'm sure Rinaldo just wanted to get the boys going. It's not like he ever cared about, you know, the safety of his opponent or trying to win hockey games. Speaking of not trying to win hockey games, Simmonds roughing up Zidlicky late in the game was entirely necessary, I'm sure. Maybe he was upset that Zidlicky was making his teammates look like fools.
I'm not saying the Devils were perfect. They weren't. I'm not sure what Clarkson was thinking leaving his feet on a hit or Salvador shoving Hartnell down, though Hartnell sold it. But the Flyers were just fouling and punking it up all night. This is why they have the reputation they do.
Pleasant Surprise: Patrik Elias shot the puck tonight! He got 4 on net, scored a power play goal on one of them, and one of them led to Parise's power play goal. The Elias line wasn't so strong tonight, but they weren't bad either. Elias was a special teams standout, though.
Faceoffs Weren't Terrible Either: No, the Devils went 27-for-56, which isn't too far below 50%. Elias drove the percentage down by going 6-for-17 and Carter didn't help in spot duty by going 1-for-4. Henrique, Josefson, and even Clarkson were all positive though, so that's a nice sign. It didn't lead to too much directly on offense, but it's a big improvement from Saturday where the Devils got dominated at the dots.
The Balanced Offense: Only three Devils didn't get a shot on net tonight: Salvador, Eric Boulton, and Ryan Carter. Salvador was too busy eating up big minutes (20:05 at evens) and he had some attempts from the point. Carter forechecked well in the limited time he got. Boulton didn't stink it up. Clarkson and Elias led with 4 apiece as the shots came from everyone. Even Cam Janssen had 2 shots on net. Yes, 2 SOGs and not doing anything stupid - I dare say this was one of Janssen's best games of the season.
Benched: If there was one Devil who didn't have such a good night, it was Adam Larsson. He only played 10:33 as he got benched in the second period. I don't think he did anything particularly terrible, but that could be me not remembering exactly what he did or did not do. The only opinion that matters is from DeBoer and the coaches and they weren't pleased. The benching explains why Salvador and Zidlicky played so much. I'm not sure what Larsson will take out of this since he has been struggling as of late. Hopefully, he'll get his game sorted out for Tuesday.
Derp: My favorite defensive stop was when Danny Briere came down the left side with the puck and just lost it while attempting a shot. Salvador just poked it away and I laughed. It was almost as funny as the Flyer running into Bobrovsky during a power play.
A Final Thought: Volchenkov (+12 in Corsi, seriously) now has as many goals as Scott Gomez this season.
That's my take on this big win, what's yours? Are you impressed with how the Devils responded after Giroux's goal? How much did you love the forecheck and the board play? How about special teams, are you a bit surprised the power play was effective as it was tonight? Who on the Devils impressed you the most with their performance tonight? Can the Devils make Andreas Lilja look terrible again? Do you think the Devils will be able to use the same gameplan on Tuesday, or do you think they should make some changes? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the 4-1 win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented and read along in the gamethread, as well as those who followed the tweets from @InLouWeTrust. Thank you all for reading.