No one noticed I misnumbered the Tampa Bay & Boston previews and gamethreads. Oops. My bad. But I corrected it for this game; even a Second Rate Rival deserves that.
The Time: 7:00 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2; Radio - 660 AM / 101.9 FM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: The Devils hosted Tampa Bay for a nationally televised game. What the nation got to see was a Lightning team demonstrate how to repeatedly fail to make a clean breakout and a clean zone entry shift after shift. The Devils' stick-checking was on point and they were rarely caught terribly out of position to make a play. There were a few moments of danger but Martin Brodeur stopped nearly everything. The Devils got up first and second in the game with both goals coming off turnovers by the visitors. Adam Henrique turned a steal into a shorthanded two-on-one give-and-go with Patrik Elias. Henrique beat Ben Bishop with the final touch. Martin St. Louis whiffed on a puck at the blueline and Jaromir Jagr knocked it away to create space for himself. Jagr pushed as he only could and beat Bishop on the ensuing breakaway to make it 2-0. Steve Stamkos put the Lightning on the board with a late power play goal in the second period. The Lightning took that event and did the absolute opposite of building on it. They had a few moments but the Devils were the superior side, Brodeur made one or two bail out saves, and the Devils held on to win 2-1. My recap of the game is here.
The Last Flyers Game: On Friday night, the Flyers hosted the Washington Capitals. The Caps did not have Alexander Ovechkin. The Flyers apparently did not have an actual team effort. The Caps got on the board late in the first with a goal by Nicklas Backstrom. After the first five minutes of the second period, the Caps were up 4-0 with a goals by Joel Ward, Jason Chimera, and a second from Backstrom. All at evens. The goalie change in the middle of that stopped nothing. Ward put up a second second period goal and Troy Brouwer converted a power play to make it 6-0, which really led the Philly faithful into a rousing rendition of "Fire Holmgren" at the end of the period. The third period saw Ward get his hat trick and the extra point for the Caps. The Flyers got mean mad the only way they can shortly afterwards, which did nothing for their cause except jack the penalties in minutes count well above eighty. Alas, they were one minute short of breaking triple digits. They also did not score a single goal. Travis Hughes had no words but ten pictures and a .GIF in his recap at Broad Street Hockey.
The Goal: Pound the puck on net. The Devils really haven't been able to do that this season with one lone exception in Ottawa. However, this is the night to get that going. The Flyers are coming off a big blow out loss and the Devils need to do what they can to pour on the misery. The Flyers head into this game with an average shots allowed rate of over 31 per game. As a team, the Flyers have often been on the wrong end of possession stats. They have one of the highest attempts allowed rates in the league in 5-on-5 play. As a blueline, only Kimmo Timonen and Eric Gustafsson have finished above 50% Corsi percentage in 5-on-5 play. The other five defenders to have suited up in orange and black have often been in their own end trying to do their job. It's clear the Flyers just don't hold teams back all that much.
Then there is their goaltending. Prior to the Caps game, it was expected to have Ray Emery in tonight. Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported as such on Friday. Steve Mason started the game against the Caps; but he got yanked for Emery after allowing three goals on ten shots. Emery got in, got lit up, and then got thrown out of the third period after starting a goalie fight against an unwilling participant. So Mason got back in. Believe it or not, Mason has been quite good this season with a 92.8% save percentage until the Caps game. Emery has only made two starts, he came in relief of last night's game, and his save percentage across all three appearances has been much lower than Mason. The Flyers might put Mason back in; which could be harder though given what the Caps did, perhaps not. Either way, both guys got lit up recently, the skaters didn't help them much, and could be prone to an aggressive Devils team.
The Flyers have been leaky with respect to allowing shots and attempts, Washington made them look like scrubs without their top player, and their backup might be in net tonight. Unless Philly plays a wonderful game or the Devils stink on ice, there will be opportunities for offense for New Jersey. It'll be up to the Devils to make the most of it if they want to ensure the Second Rate Rivals leave the Rock just as unhappy as they did when they arrived.
Same Devils: The New Jersey Devils had the good fortune to not have any games in the last three days. This has allowed some players to get some rest and recover a little bit. The only scare was Travis Zajac rolling his ankle in Friday's practice, but he says he should be fine for tonight according to this Friday post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice.
With the team coming off consecutive wins against two good Atlantic Division teams, the practice lineup on Friday has not changed from the actual lineup on Tuesday. For those who don't know or want to see them anyway, here's Gulitti's initial post about Friday's practice. I can understand what Peter DeBoer is doing here. The team has won two games, they looked better than a good Tampa Bay team, and so there's no compelling reason to make a change. Eric Gelinas remains on the blueline along with Adam Larsson; the CBGB line remains as the fourths; and the three scratches will likely be Jacob Josefson, Peter Harrold, and Mattias Tedenby again.
the only potential lineup change I could see involves the goalies. Martin Brodeur will start tonight and I do hope he builds on his good play from the last five periods. Again, he needs to not give up soft goals to help give the Devils a chance to win. The backup role could change. Cory Schneider has been on injured reserve retroactive to last week due to a lower body issue. Keith Kinkaid has been up with the team as a backup. Schneider thinks he should be ready for Sunday's game in Minnesota according to this post by Gulitti. He'll need to be activated first, which will lead to Kinkaid getting sent down. If that happens for tonight, then it's a good bet he'll get the start against the Wild as the Devils will likely split the back-to-back. But that's for Sunday; for tonight, Brodeur just needs to not give easy goals up to a Flyers team that is looking for any.
Bang, Bang, Bang: I am admittedly a little concerned about the Gelinas-Larsson pairing tonight because of who the Flyers are. There's plenty of guys up front who can bang with the best of them. Every one of their lines will have at least one player who can play physical if not prefers to do so. Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds, Zac Rinaldo, and the re-acquired Steve Downie all play with various levels of "edge." Three of those (Hint: it's not the chump who goes knee-on-knee when getting blown out) are rather skilled hockey players who can and will make plays on the puck. Then there's the general reputation of the Flyers. A guy like Claude Giroux doesn't go out there to throw pain bombs, but it would surprise no one if he did. Consider also that this is a rivalry game and it's reasonable to expect a physical game. Especially after a game where they got a metaphorical wedgie from an Ovechkin-less Caps team. When the Flyers can't win, they get mean. See: Game 5 in 2012; last night's 7-0 loss to the Caps.
Hence my concern about the third pairing. One of Larsson's biggest problems is that he gets hit a lot and one of Gelinas' issues is that he's not a physical player despite his large frame. The rest of the D shouldn't have a problem with it. I don't expect most of the forwards to be put too off by it. Keeping Josefson away from this one is preferable in my opinion. But it's going an interesting challenge for Larsson-Gelinas as they're going to have to deal with a physical presence no matter DeBoer tries to get them out against with the last line change.
The Devils Aren't the Only Ones Who Could Use Hotter Sticks: On paper, their group of forwards should present a production challenge. But the team has struggled to score this season. Their overall shooting percentage is a mere 6.5% before the Caps game according to Extra Skater. They're actually below 6% in 5-on-5 shooting percentage. Philadelphia is one of the few teams with fewer goals scored than the Devils and that's a big surprise given they still have a formidable top-nine on paper. It's really weird to see that Giroux and Hartnell both have no goals. (Surely, that won't last.) Only Brayden Schenn, Vincent Lecavalier, and Matt Read have more than one goal scored among their top three lines. Tye McGinn put up three goals early on this season and the team sent him down. Their power play has been converting at a rate of 11.6% with five goals out of 43 opportunities prior to the Washington game. Last season may have been lost for them but scoring goals was not at all their problem. It appears from my view point that their sticks have just gone cold. And when the opposition does well or makes a come back, well, they can't really respond. No wonder they're at the bottom of the Metropolitan.
The hope for the Flyers is that the collective scoring slump ends at some point. While Mason's been very good and the defense remains, well, not so good, their strength needs to come from their forwards. That they can ice three scoring lines and wreck havoc with match-ups. They have not been able to do that so far. Let us hope that does not change starting with tonight's game. Luck and fortune will do as they wish; all the Flyers can do is go for attempts. It'll be up to the Devils to try and repeat what they did to the Lightning; make it as difficult as possible to get them.
Your Scorers Are Out: The Flyers can claim two players to have been productive. Well, one entirely with the Flyers and one who they just picked up. When the Flyers got Steve Downie from Colorado, his seven points with Colorado puts him in a tie with Lecavalier for the team lead in points. While that's an indictment of the team's offense so far, it's a reason why this was such a good trade. Downie may have a reputation for reckless behavior, but he's got game. He's played with top players in Tampa Bay and in Colorado. At Broad Street Hockey, Travis Hughes plainly stated that he's an offensive upgrade over Max Talbot, the man the Avs wanted for some reason. In theory he should help. The metaphorical oasis in the Flyer's goal-scoring desert has been Lecavalier. He leads the team with five goals with a hat trick three games ago and another goal two games ago. An attempt a goal streak obviously ended. But he's still got a lot left in the tank. He would be quite dangerous, especially on a line with Downie and Giroux. Surely these two could help Giroux get on the board. If not, Giroux could help them light the lamp.
Would and could are operative words. As the Caps applied a 7-0 beatdown, the Flyers applied, well, a beatdown. Downie got a 17-minute special for a fight (instigator, fight, misconduct) and a concussion to go with that. Lecavalier suffered a facial injury. This was reported right after the game by Frank "Emery's the Third Star of the Game" Seravalli. Call it injuries after an insulting on-ice performance. At least messages were sent.
Anyway, the team's top scorer and someone who was brought in to spark the offense are both out injured for this game. I'd still say the Giroux line would be the most dangerous if only because Giroux is a legitimate high-end talent. But this news at least gives DeBoer and the coaches more options for match-ups because who knows how Berube adjusts the lines after this.
Still Tread Lightly: This will be a rivalry game and if there's anything that a team gets up for it, it's these kinds of games. After all, the Devils haven't been a high-scoring team, they were on a seven game winless streak, and it just so happened that the one of the few nights they lit up a goalie and ended that streak was against Our Hated Rivals. Who's to say that the Flyers won't play like a bunch of desperate dudes, move their feet a lot, and make something happen to make up for last night's embarrassment of a performance? Other than the Capitals and anyone who saw last night's game?
So it's on the Devils to keep calm and - going back to the goal - exploit the Flyers whenever they can for shots on net. I don't think they're going to be so wildly successful at stopping or slowing them down in the neutral zone like they did to Tampa Bay. But I do think that if they can stop them from getting set-up in a cycle and avoid some breakdowns in discipline or positioning, then they can find those opportunities to attack themselves. Crack Emery (or Mason) and keep it up until the game's over and the scoreline is heavily in favor of the good guys. Don't risk being the "rebound team" the Flyers want to find after getting wrecked by a Caps team missing their top player.
Your Take: The Devils will take on a Flyers team that is coming off a bad, bad loss in the midst of a season with relatively little goal scoring and poor possession. Will the Devils take full advantage? Or do you think Philly will put up more of a fight - not an actual one, one on the scoreboard? Who on the Devils do you think has to have a good game - beyond the goalie - to make this night a successful one? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.