Tonight's the home opener at the Rock. You'll see a new banner up in the rafters, you'll get a free commemorative puck, and you'll see the New Jersey Devils take on the Second Rate Rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Time: 7:30 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - NBC Sports Network; Radio - 660 AM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (1-0-0) vs. the Philadelphia Flyers (0-2-0, SBN Blog: Broad Street Hockey)
The Last Devils Game: The Devils opened up the 2013 season on the road against the Islanders and came away with a 2-1 win. The score was close, but the performance was not. The Devils doubled up on the Isles in even strength shots, 26-13; and they controlled most of the play. The Isles made some pushes, but they didn't have many stretches of sustained pressure. Martin Brodeur was solid; Travis Zajac scored off a beautiful play; and a David Clarkson wrister found it's way through. You would have liked to have seen more goals, but what they got did the job. My recap of the win is right here.
The Last Flyers Game: The Flyers went into Buffalo on Sunday after losing 3-1 to Pittsburgh on national TV on Saturday. The hope was that they'd rebound and respond. That didn't really happen. Buffalo did strike first with a power play goal in the first period; but Sean Couturier responded early in the second and the Flyers took a 2-1 lead with a Claude Giroux blast on a power play. Alas, Buffalo's Thomas Vanek equalized with their second power play goal of the day later in the second period. The Sabres pulled away in the third with a flurry of three goals within five minutes: a power play score from Tyler Myers, an even strength insurance goal by Cody Hodgson, and an empty netter from Vanek (his fifth point of the day) to confirm a 5-2 loss for Philadelphia. The game had some controversial calls that went against Philly, but the Flyers flopped again through being out-shot and beaten thrice on the PK. Travis Hughes recapped the game here at Broad Street Hockey, though I must forewarn you of some bad language in it.
The Goal: Tonight's a great night to get the power play going. The Flyers have allowed five goals on nine power plays in their first two games. Sure, one of them was an empty netter that sealed their loss to Pittsburgh; but that's an early sign of vulnerability. So is the fact that the Flyers handed Buffalo six power plays out of 11 penalties. Given that this is a rivalry game and I'm sure the Flyers aren't happy about losing their first two games, I think it's reasonable to think the Devils will get a few man advantages tonight. The Devils really didn't do much of anything with their two power plays against the Isles. They had trouble just getting set up and in the few occasions that they did, they forced passes to a backdoor player despite the passing lane being filled with bodies. They only generated two shots and they weren't particularly good ones either. Needless to say, I want to see more from Ilya Kovalchuk, Marek Zidlicky, David Clarkson, Patrik Elias, and anyone else on the power play units in terms of shots. According to this report at Fire & Ice, the team has worked on their power play in Monday's practice. The home opener is a good of time as any to show that off in a game.
Of course, the Devils have to wary of the Flyers in general. Unlike the Isles, the Flyers are a deeper team at forward. They have an star in Claude Giroux leading their team and their offense. Expect Peter DeBoer to match his best line against him whenever he can. So far, he's been centerting Scott Hartnell, who can be a real pain to play against, and Brayden Schenn, one of the few young players who could become quite good in this league one day. Jakub Voracek is a great possession forward and the sort of player a team needs to really complement their offense. Sean Couturier and Matt Read both had good rookie seasons and are looking to build on that. Couturier in particular has been centering the second line, so you'll see plenty of him. Their fourth line includes Kyle Wellwood and Ruslan Fedotenko and despite their veteran presence, they could out-do the Devils' bottom two lines. Wayne Simmonds is a tough, gritty player who has good hands and can chip in where necessary. Max Talbot is a secondary winger who can be a real pest. Hartnell does all that and hangs on a top line. They are pretty well supported even without Danny Briere, who will be out for this game according to Frank Seravalli at Frequent Flyers at Philly.com. When Briere returns, they will be better but it's a formidable group. Matching against them could present problems, especially since the Devils are using their fourth line from the playoffs as a third line.
It should be noted that the Flyers will be without their top goon, Zac Rinaldo. He took a skate to the leg in the Buffalo game and he will be out a week for a thigh laceration according to Seravalli. He may be replaced by either the called-up Tye McGinn, another goon in Jody Shelley, or Energy's Brother, Tom Sestito. The Devils skaters can feel a little bit safer about the backs of their knees if they start blowing away the Flyers on the scoreboard. However, I wouldn't expect that to happen since goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov has arguably been the team's best player in their first two games. While six goals allowed in two games isn't the start you want your top goalie to have, he can only really be blamed on one of them. If anything, he's been bailing out his team from more lopsided scores. As much as the larger hockey community online likes to point out his strange sayings and past gaffes, I think present a big challenge for the Devils forwards. One that may require quite a lot of shots to beat.
Fortunately for the Devils, the Flyers have a vulnerable defense. It's no longer 2010 where Chris Pronger led and carried the group and Kimmo Timonen ate a lot of minutes. Pronger's not going to return and the Flyers are still leaning pretty hard on a 37-year old, declining Timonen. He has played in all situations so far in this season and last, but given that he got out-shot by 12 in 13:50 of even strength time against Buffalo, one has to wonder whether that's a good idea. Also recall how the Devils absolutely picked on him in the playoffs for further evidence. Then again, maybe Peter Laviolette doesn't have much of a choice. They have Brayden Coburn, who plays a lot and he's pretty good. They have Nicklas Grossman, who's OK. Then they have Luke Schenn, who maybe might become an average NHL player, a third-pairing calibur Andrej Meszaros, and Kurtis Foster. Yes, the same Kurtis Foster who wasn't missed last season after his short time in New Jersey. Coburn-Grossman can only play so much, so Timonen has to get out there. The larger point is that the Flyers can be beaten in the back. If the Devils are able to quell the Flyers' attack and win pucks in the neutral zone, then they can very well put up a lot of rubber on Bryzgalov.
Tonight would be a good night to keep up a strong forecheck. Not only are the Flyers questionable on defense, but they are also playing their third game in four nights. I don't think the Flyers will be gassed in this game but I do think they can be worn down a little faster than a Devils team who has had two days off. The Devils' forecheck worked wonders in the postseason against the Flyers. So much so, it was even brought up in Gulitti's report after Monday's practice. While not having a certain Zach weakens their forechecking possibilities, the Devils did regularly send one to two skaters up to pressure the Isles on Saturday night. It worked to a degree as the Isles made some mistakes with the puck. Of course, the Isles helped the Devils with only a few sustained shifts of offensive pressure. The Flyers should put up more of a fight and shouldn't be as rusty. That said, DeBoer should have the opportunity to put up an aggressive forecheck and I think it'll work out well.
We should see the same lineup from the Islanders game for the Devils tonight. Even though Travis Zajac and Jacob Josefson did not practice on Monday, DeBoer says they will play tonight per Gulitti's report from practice. The good news is that Martin Brodeur will start again. While he only faced 19 shots, they were some pretty dangerous shots and he was sharp in net in preserving a 2-1 lead on the road. If he can keep that up tonight, then that would be appreciated. The not-so-good news is that Stefan Matteau will play again. Although he had three shots on net in his NHL debut, I'm concerned that he could be a problem in a rivalry game since he is penalty-prone junior forward. I am a worrier, but I don't think it's unwarranted. The curious news is that this would mean Mattias Tedenby will be alongside Patrik Elias again. Tedenby did have a good game against the Isles if only because he wasn't benched for the whole third period. I think he's competing for his future and building off that game is in his and the team's best interest. Keep an eye on him tonight to see if he does just that.
The disappointing news is that Adam Larsson appears to be sitting out another game. I definitely think Larsson is a NHL-caliber player and I definitely agree he should be playing. But who do you sit for Larsson? The Devils are coming off a win where they only allowed 19 shots on net. While not every defenseman was perfect, it's really difficult to make changes when the blueline did so well as a whole in their first game. Until someone gets hurt, moved, or doesn't play well, Larsson could be in a suit instead of a uniform. It's not ideal, but someone's got to sit with eight defensemen on the active roster.
As a final point, don't forget this is a rivalry game. These games tend to be just a bit more energetic than most, a bit more lively than most, and a bit more difficult for everyone. No one likes to lose, but losing to a rival just feels worse even though it's worth the same as any other game in the standings. Hopefully, the Devils come out strong and put pressure on Philly. An effective power play, among other means, would be a big help.
I'm really looking forward to being back at the Rock. It's been too long since I've sat in my seat in Section 1, Row 16. Short of the Devils playing incredibly poorly against the Flyers in Newark (a.k.a. Dropping a Langenbrunner), I'm going to mostly be glad to see live Devils hockey. Hopefully, you'll be there to experience it either tonight. If you're not able or you can't, then at least watch or listen to the game. In the meantime, let's talk about this game. What do you think of the Flyers so far? Can the Devils keep Giroux and company at bay? Will Brodeur have another good game? How do you think the Devils should attack the Flyers? Who do you think needs to have a big game tonight for the Devils? Will we see an effective power play by the Devils tonight? Will the Devils win their home opener? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.