The Devils were indeed dominant in the first period. They went up 1-0 fairly early, thanks to Matt Read coughing up the puck to Patrik Elias who gave it to Zach Parise for a one timer to beat Ilya Bryzgalov. That new line of Elias, Parise, and Dainius Zubrus were buzzing early and often. So did the other lines. The Devils put up the game's first 10 shots or so, and generally owned the puck. The Flyers got some offense late, but the Devils were in control. The Philly faithful booed their favorite team off the ice at the end of the first period. If you wanted to see the best the Devils could do against Philadelphia, then that period was a great example.
However, something changed in the second period. The Flyers started hitting their passes going forward while the Devils squandered the puck. The neutral zone became a place where the Flyers could go through whereas the Devils struggled to move the puck through it. The Flyers attacked more, while the Devils were not able to. And then the goals came. A bad decision to pinch by Peter Harrold allowed Danny Briere to get a breakaway and he beat Martin Brodeur to make it 1-1. Less than a minute later, Brodeur pulls a Hedberg and gives away the puck to Eric Gustaffsson. While Brodeur made a crazy dive in desperation to stop his shot, the rebound flies out to James van Reimsdyk, who hammers it in. It's 2-1. The only saving grace for the Devils was that on a late power play, Ilya Kovalchuk's dump in got played right out to Parise on the sideboards. Parise hit Travis Zajac with a perfect pass and the puck trickled through Ilya Bryzgalov. It's 2-2 despite the fact that the Flyers out-shot the Devils 8-3 and dropped a +8 Corsi in the first period to +2. The Flyers were the better team and were unfortunate to be tied.
The Flyers just went from strength to strength in the third period as the Devils got progressively worse. The Flyers attacked early and often while the Devils just kept getting pinned back. All four lines were forced to defend, all three pairings were just scrambling to make plays, and Martin Brodeur was making bail out saves left and right to keep the Devils in it. The only shot that beat him was simply unstoppable. Claude Giroux hammered a picture-perfect one-timer on a power play (Andy Greene for hooking, though it should've been Kovalchuk for high-sticking) over Brodeur's shoulder to make it 3-2. The Flyers kept pressing forward and should've scored more - Brodeur was that stingy. At the opposite end, the Devils rarely got pucks to Bryzgalov. Their sole chance in the third came when Petr Sykora got sprung for a one-on-one and he beat Bryzgalov five-hole to make it 3-3. That's right, a very soft goal was what kept the Devils in the game. Imagine if he didn't keep his legs open? That was simply a lucky break in a period where the Flyers out-shot the Devils 15-4 and dropped the Devils' Corsi from +2 to -12. The Flyers were the superior team for two straight periods; and yet, they couldn't avoid overtime.
The Devils had an opportunity to steal the game; but the overtime period was mostly more of the same. Marek Zidlicky made life harder on everyone on New Jersey by throwing a puck over the glass in his own end. The Flyers didn't score on that power play thanks to Brodeur and the NHL Situation Room for taking away a goal because Briere kicked a puck into the net. The Devils got a jam play on offense that had some hope; but it would be their lone bit of offense before Philly put the game away. Like in the third period, the Flyers pinned the Devils in their own end and the skaters couldn't get the puck out. Briere is wide open above the high slot for a shot; van Reimsdyk screens Brodeur; and the puck goes in. It's 4-3 Philly, they take Game 1, and the Devils have a lot, and I mean a lot, to work on before Game 2 on Tuesday.
Even if the Devils did score in OT, it would have been a stolen game. As great as that would have been, the Devils still have to get their game in order. They were outclassed for a majority of the game, their puck movement just got worse and worse, and their possession game faltered. Yes, the score was close, but the play on the ice wasn't; after all, the Devils got out-shot 30-11 after that great first period. Games aren't going to be won in that way. Several players were just pitiful today and against a team as deep as the Flyers, that's going to be a problem. The good news is that it's only Game 1, Ilya Bryzgalov is still shaky in net, and they have something on tape to look at and start sorting out their issues. They'll pretty much have to unless they want it to be a short series.
For an opposition's perspective on this series, please visit Broad Street Hockey. For few more thoughts on this game as well as stats and a highlight video, 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: If you would like to see the game's highlight video from NHL.com, then watch this video:
Everyone's Got to Do Better: The Devils out-shot the Flyers 15-6 in the first period. That was awesome. All four lines contributed in their own way, which stemmed the tide. For the rest of the game, the Devils put up 11 shots on net. Lots of players disappeared on the shot count after that first period. Patrik Elias put up four in the first and nothing from then on. Parise, who worked quite hard at least, scored a goal at evens in the first period, but his other two shots came during penalty kills in the third and overtime period (one each). David Clarkson got two good looks on a first period power play and that was it from him today. Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta brought some energy and a few shots (two and one, respectively) in the first period and only in the first period. Bryce Salvador and Andy Greene each managed one shot on net during a PK in the first period. That's seven Devils in various roles who put up nothing at evens beyond the first period and in the case of Clarkson, he put up nothing at evens all game. It would've been eight except Petr Sykora somehow split two defensemen in 2012 and beat Bryzgalov five-hole for a score.
At least they did something. There were four players who got nothing on net: Zidlicky, Anton Volchenkov, Dainius Zubrus, and Kovalchuk. The first two aren't so worrisome; the third is a little surprising though his role is to make space and not shoot; and the fourth is just horrible. Alexei Ponikarovsky and Mark Fayne would have joined this list except they each had a shot on net in overtime during a scrum around Bryzgalov's crease.
I keep stressing the shots and the offense because that first period showed the best way to handle this Flyers team. They need to be forced to defend. If they're forced just to clear the puck away, then the Devils can build up pressure against them. The Flyers can't go freewheeling into New Jersey's end if they have to be concerned about the attack. Most of all, Bryzgalov is still a giant question mark in net. If the Devils just keep firing pucks on him, then they have a real chance of going in. He's been shaky - the Devils should look to capitalize. Instead, the team gets 11 collective shots on net after the first. The team's Corsi went from +8 after the first to -17 by the end of the game. The puck movement just got worse and worse as time went on; and so the opportunities to attack were lost. I still can't fathom how this happened when the team had an intermission after a bad second period to talk it out and regroup and another intermission after a horrible third period to really refocus. But it did. Everyone's got to do better.
Kovalchuk Was Bad - Real Bad: There's a lot of criticism pointed at Ilya Kovalchuk after this game. I can't really blame Devils fans for much of it. He was awful today. I don't want to hear about his injury because as I've been told by several people that the injury explains his lack of speed. Today, it was his play with and off the puck that was abysmal. His speed would have helped, but his mind was the larger issue.
Slow or not, Kovalchuk was able to make things happen in the Florida series. Kovalchuk managed to finish in the top ten in the NHL shots on net after the Florida series; yet he got no shots on net today against a less defensive Philly team. None. That in of itself is terrible for a guy who can and should be firing away on net as much as he can. Speaking of, he only attempted two shots on net. C'mon, son.
It's should be noted that Zajac, Ponikarovsky, and Kovalchuk did face a mix of Philly's top two lines at evens today; but Kovalchuk was only on the ice for two shots on net at even strength and eleven against, including two goals. He was a -11 in Corsi, only out-done by Anton Volchenkov (-12) and Sykora (-12). The unit of Briere (+22 Corsi!), van Reimsdyk (+17 Corsi!), and Jakub Voracek made them eat their lunch today.
Kovalchuk's one really positive play was that dump-in that became Zajac's goal, yet more credit for that score should go to Parise for collection of the puck and his killer pass. That was it. Elsewhere, he just was not quite in the right place on offense or defense. And he got away with an obvious high-stick on Maxime Talbot; for some reason, Greene's hook was called instead. I'm willing to chalk this up to just having a bad game. I don't think he should be benched (I don't want to think about But he's got to be better, especially given some of the other Devils' individual performances
Two Players Who Were Just As Bad or If Not Worse than Kovalchuk: First and foremost, let's point a finger at Sykora. Yes, he scored the game tying goal in the third period. Great. He only had one other shot on net all game. He also stupidly held Gustaffson as he was entering the zone on a three-on-two not even a minute after Giroux's power play goal. Most of all, he racked up a -12 Corsi in 9:05 of even strength ice time. Peter Laviolette loved picking on him along with Adam Henrique and Clarkson. Why else would #15 see Voracek and Briere more than other Philly forwards at evens? I don't anticipate Sykora getting any better real fast as he was a non-factor in the Florida series too. Still, he's got to be more aware of his competition and adjust his game. Otherwise, Peter DeBoer needs to protect him even further.
Second, let's also point a finger at Marek Zidlicky. He was great in the Florida series. Today, he was the opposite of great. He struggled in clearing the puck; his failed clearance in overtime eventually led to Briere's game winning goal; several of his passes didn't meet their mark; and neither of his two attempts on net hit home. Zidlicky was constantly pinned back with Bryce Salvador and so he racked up a -11 in Corsi (and the team's worst Fenwick at -14). In his defense, Zidlicky did see the Giroux line more often than any other unit. He wasn't going up against weak competition. However, he floundered. On top of that, he took an incredibly dumb delay of game call in overtime. I don't care if the rule sucks, he's got to know by now that putting the puck over the glass an easy call for the refs every time. And it was his second minor penalty of the game, he got caught hooking down (it was actually a trip, but whatever) Brayden Schenn. Two minors, constantly pinned back, bad clearances, and struggling with the puck is a recipe for a bad game. I'm willing to believe that it was just that: a bad game. If he starts slumping now, then the Devils could be in serious trouble.
I'm not bringing both up to absolve Kovalchuk; just pointing out that some players had real stinkers as well.
Who Drew Couts: The Elias line did look the best, but they also drew the weaker-than-Briere-and-Giroux line: Sean Couturier, Maxime Talbot, and Eric Wellwood. I suspect Laviolette will try to work the match-ups in the same way on Tuesday, meaning the Zajac and Henrique lines get to "enjoy" the Flyers' top six forwards all night long. If DeBoer isn't thinking about line changes, then he probably should on Monday.
Third Pairing Watch: The third pairing was just all over the place. Literally. Peter Harrold got caught pinching when he shouldn't and so he was lamely trying to catch Briere from behind on his breakaway. Flyers players had no issue bodying up on him. He didn't look comfortable at all out there for the first time in a while. Due to his protection and limited minutes, he ended up at -3 Corsi. Somehow, Volchenkov ended up with a -12 Corsi despite playing less than Harrold at evens. I'm hoping a lot of that from the overrun of the Flyers' power plays; though seeing Briere for about half of his even strength ice time really didn't help.
A Plea: The Devils took six minor penalties today. I will concede that the tripping call on Elias was a bad call. But the other five, goodness, they weren't necessary at all. The Devils' PK was mostly solid, though they couldn't do anything about Giroux's power play goal in the third period. Still, going five-for-six in successes and allowing only eight shots by a power play that has been super-hot is a good thing. However, it's going to become a problem if the Devils spend ten minutes of the game shorthanded. I'm pleading again: Stop taking dumb penalties, Devils.
OK, This Guy Only Needed to Be Better On One Play: Martin Brodeur had an excellent outing despite the result. He faced 36 shots and stopped 32 of them. He faced shots from all over the place and on a few plays, he had to deal with bodies in his way - both Flyers and his own teammates. (Aside: Devils, stop shoving players into your goaltender!)
The only goal that he really should be faulted on was van Reimsdyk's goal in the second period. The main reason for that is that Brodeur put himself in a bad spot with passing the puck right to Nicklas Gustafsson. If only he moved that puck up along the boards, then he would have been back in the net in time to square up for any shot instead of making a desperate stop. Even then, he did make a stop on Gustafsson's shot and was very close on the put-back attempt by van Reimsdyk. Brodeur was just beaten on a breakaway; an explosive one-timer to his side; and a long shot through a screen. Those aren't bad goals to allow; he didn't pull any Bryzgalov's today. Elsewhere, Brodeur made all kinds of bail out saves, like robbing Talbot on a one-timer, all kinds of stops in the third period, and stretching his right pad out on Scott Hartnell during the Flyers' power play in overtime.
I'm very glad Brodeur showed up to perform as he did; otherwise, the Flyers would've blown out the Devils in the third period. Yet, I'm disheartened because the Devils didn't get take full advantage of their goaltender making all of these saves while other team's goaltender was shaky in net. So it goes, I suppose. Thanks go to Brodeur for keeping it closer than it should have been.
The Best Flyer: Briere. He was everywhere, he wrecked whoever he faced, he did very well on faceoffs (11-for-16), and he scored on half of his shots. If you didn't think much of Briere, then this game should change your mind.
That All Said: The Devils were lucky to get into OT by their performance and they lost. As bad as that missed opportunity to win a game they shouldn't have, it is only Game 1. If the Devils can take Game 2, then they still take away home ice from Philly in addition to getting right back into the series. There's a lot of hockey left and anything can happen. Hopefully, anything includes much better performances from the Devils' skaters for longer than twenty minutes.
Now that you know my thoughts, feelings, and observations on this overtime loss to a hated rival, I want to know what you think. What, if anything, can the Devils build on for Game 2? What, among lots of things, do the Devils need to work on the most for Game 2? Other than Kovalchuk (that's a given), who needs to have a big bounce-back game on Tuesday for the Devils to have a chance at winning that one? Based on what you've seen from the Flyers today, do the Devils have a reasonable chance at winning Game 2 and why? Who was the best Devil on the ice today? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on today's overtime loss in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the gamethread as well as with @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.