Ilya Kovalchuk: Difference maker. Ilya Bryzgalov: Helped out as the Devils put four past him. - Bruce Bennett
The New Jersey Devils rallied from a 3-1 deficit after an awful first period to beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-3. This recap goes over how the Devils made their comeback, what went right and wrong, and other observations from the win.
Despite a goal by Travis Zajac off the first shot of the game by the home team, the New Jersey Devils dug themselves in deep in the first period against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers responded to the goal with consistent offensive pressure. They cashed in on a power play when an uncovered Wayne Simmonds backhanded a puck in between Martin Brodeur's legs for the equalizer. Mike Knuble scored less than two minutes later with a wrister from the high-slot. Less than a minute later, a Mark Fayne giveaway to Claude Giroux quickly went to Matt Read for a one-timer. Three goals against in 2:36. The Devils looked lost in their own end and in the neutral zone, Peter DeBoer burned his timeout after the Knuble goal which did little to settle his team, Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn each had glorious chances to score, and the Flyers didn't sit on a 3-1 lead. Zajac's goal and the fact it was 3-1 and not 4-1 or 5-1 were the only positives out of that first period. The Devils had no one else to blame but themselves for their worst first period performance since the Montreal game a couple of weeks ago. The Devils needed to get it together.
And the Devils did just that on offense. Even with their six shots in the first period, Ilya Bryzgalov looked shaky and the Flyers defense could be exploited off the rush. Right on the Devils' first shift, Brodeur hits Kovalchuk with a long pass in the neutral zone, Kovalchuk gets the puck off to his right to a wide-open Alexei Ponikarovsky, and the "new" guy fired it shortside to make it 3-2. The Devils' defense continued to be out of sorts. Their decision making wasn't quick enough, they tended to bunch up on one side, they nearly got beaten in scrums in front, and they needed a few breaks and bailout saves. The Flyers matched their 11 shots in the first period with 11 more. But the Devils' offense really opened things up with their forecheck and movement through the zone when they did have the puck. With under six minutes left, Kimmo Timonen gave away the puck to Kovalchuk. Kovalchuk looked up, saw Patrik Elias coming in late, and Elias rewarded Timonen's error with a goal. The Devils had nine shots on net, tied the game at 3-3, and looked like they could hang with Philly after a bad first period.
The third period was tenser and both teams dug in a bit. There were a lot of lost pucks in the neutral zone and defensive stops to prevent attempts. The Flyers found more success on offense with a few shots on net early, but the Devils got the break they were looking for. After spending most of the first ten minutes with little offensive presence, the Adam Henrique line actually got set up on offense. After a missed shot by Elias went into the corner, Read attempted a clearance. Adam Larsson kept it in, fired a low shot towards the bodies in the slot, and David Clarkson - of course it was Clarkson, everything's going his way this year - got his stick on it to deflect it past Bryzgalov. It broke the tie and in a way, it broke the Flyers. The Flyers would only put up three more shots in that period as the Devils tightened up in their own zone. They pulled the goalie within the last two minutes, the Devils got the puck back, and Steve Bernier sealed the win at 5-3.
Tonight, the Devils started off poorly and deserved to be down by much more than 3-1. The Devils' response was nothing short of admirable. While they didn't rack up a lot of shots, they finished the game down only 46-41 in attempts and, most importantly, scored four unanswered goals. Had the Devils' defense been tighter earlier and been on sides about six fewer times, we could have seen more offense in transition against a vulnerable goaltender. It wasn't the prettiest of wins; however, coming from behind to smack down a rival at home is always going to be more beautiful than an unfortunate loss. Tonight's game also provided an important life lesson that we all can takeaway: never give up on a job even if it starts off terribly. You could very well find a way to get it done - just like the Devils tonight.
The Opposition Opinion: User everybodyhitswoohoo has every reason not to be happy with the Flyers in their recap over at Broad Street Hockey. Well, they did blow a 3-1 lead.
The Game Highlights: You want to see eight goals, close saves by Martin Brodeur, and so much more in an up-and-down game. You want to see this video from NHL.com. Here it is, for you:
Selfless Russian: Ilya Kovalchuk only had two shots on net out of three attempts. That's not much like him. But I assure you, he was the best Devil on the ice tonight. When he had the puck in the neutral zone, it often was carried into the Philadelphia Flyers' end of the rink. He commanded the Flyers' D so much attention he found not just one but two open teammates that led to goals off the rush. When Timonen gifted him a puck along the boards in the second period, he hit Elias with a pass so sublime that it would have been a shame if Elias didn't score. Kovalchuk was everywhere he needed to be in his 23:03 of ice time tonight. He was instrumental in their big comeback win tonight. He was the difference maker with his three primary assists tonight. Kovalchuk fully deserved his award as First Star of the Game by Tonight's Attending Media.
My Large Poni: Alexei Ponikarovsky played 19:39 alongside Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac, the most he's played all season. He did pretty well. He only had one shot on net, but it went into the net for his third of the season. It got the Devils right back into the game just 26 seconds after a terrible first period. It was refreshing to see the top two lines kept together for a whole game and it speaks to how Ponikarovsky played in general. He was solid going forward and he didn't hurt the team on defense. As far as first games go, you can't ask for much better.
Snapped: Zajac's goal 40 seconds into tonight's game was his first goal since the last Devils-Flyers game. That's big for him. Hopefully, he'll be able to build on that now that he has that huge weight off his back. He'll definitely do better at the dot after going 8-for-21 tonight.
Stay Hot, My Friend: The line of Adam Henrique, Patrik Elias, and David Clarkson continue to lead the offense. While the Zajac line picked up the points, this trio had more shots and more attempts. They also got on the scoreboard too as that line led the attack that ended with Clarkson's deflection. Elias came on late and fired in the equalizer, the first of his three points tonight. His other two being assists on the Clarkson goal and Bernier's empty net goal. Henrique only had one shot on net but he did well at the dot by going 10-for-16 and came incredibly close to a goal off a rebound in the first period. Clarkson, well, what more can I write about him? Six shots on net, eight total attempts, and he scored his tenth of the season. Clarkson has remained hot for close to a full month now and even when the goals do dry up, he's still making an impact with all the shots he keeps getting. Those six shots don't even include the post he hit in the first period before the Flyers' flurry of goals. Good night for the line, great night for Elias and Clarkson.
Defensive Woes, or Surely We Have to See Tallinder Soon: As much love as I have about the Devils' goals and who made them happen, I don't have a lot of love for the defensive effort. The forwards didn't help enough and the defensemen were just slow to react and decide what to do. As a result, there were several plays where the Flyers would get a loose puck or make a play to a dangerous spot and you'd see two to four red jerseys just caught frozen. All four lines from the Flyers got their licks in, with Read, Brayden Schenn, Simmonds, Giroux, and Jakub Voracek leading the way with at least two shots apiece and countless plays and zone entries. The Devils had plenty of shifts where they couldn't make the one pass or clearance to get the play out of their own zone. They had some absolutely strange moments like seeing four Devils to Brodeur's left and in front of him, who then watched a pass to Giroux who just fires the one-timer off the outside of the post. The team allowed 22 shots in the first two periods and they weren't easy shots for Brodeur. Because they struggled to make that pass out of the zone, that hamstrung their offense to a degree.
Mark Fayne had a particularly poor game. I'll admit that's largely driven by his awful giveaway in the first period that led to Read's goal. Keep in mind, he delayed with the puck to allow Salvador and Zajac to get away from him and then just threw it up to Giroux. He was notably not paired with Salvador later in the game, playing along side Anton Volchenkov. That was definitely an in-game demotion. I think Fayne will be better in future games.
Silver Lining in the Defense: I will give the Devils this on defense, they really clamped down in the third period. They held the Flyers to only six shots total and only one after Clarkson scored off a deflection. Adam Larsson really stepped up big at both ends. He really stepped into players at the right time along the boards, he cleared out pucks to prevent second chances, and he even out-muscled Simmonds (who looked real good and had a couple of chances to score more than one tonight) to deny him a pass to the slot that would have given him a great chance at a late equalizer. Larsson had a strong third period. Andy Greene threw an important hit that kept a Flyers dump-in moving that continued up out of the zone and ended with Steve Bernier scoring an empty net goal. I even liked what Marek Zidlicky did late, save for B. Schenn getting behind him for a shot. I still think that outside of this period, the coaches are understandably not pleased with their play in their own end and we could see Henrik Tallinder get in a game.
Brodeur Over Bryzgalov: I can't say Brodeur had a great night, but he didn't get a lot of help early on. I don't fault him on Simmonds goal since he put in no-look backhander that found daylight. That's hard (and it brings to mind why Salvador didn't think to get over to cover him) to stop. I felt he could have stopped Knuble's shot. He had no chance on Read's one-timer. He nearly got beaten among a scrum but Larsson bailed him out with a late stop. He did make a number of important stops, most notably on Schenn - once in the first period at the post and again very late in the game. I really liked how Brodeur handled the puck tonight. He only had one puck that went awry but the Devils recovered quickly enough before, you know, Fayne coughed it up to Giroux. Other than that, he was perfect with his apex being his pass to Kovalchuk that led to Ponikarovsky's goal early in the second.
Bryzgalov faced fewer shots and just looked out of sorts. He got beaten five times (Clarkson hit the post early), he let out quite a few dangerous rebounds, and he really should have stopped the shots by Zajac and Elias that they scored on. They both got him in between his arm and the body, and in Elias' case, he got more than a piece of it. Those were goals he'd rather have back in my view. His play was surprising in the sense that Bryzgalov has been very fine at five-on-five play this season. Tonight, he had the sort of performance that makes outsiders question whether the Flyers are OK in their own end. At least the eventual game winner wasn't his fault.
Disciplined in Favor of the Visitors: Only two penalties were called all game. Both teams had their fair share of borderline calls but referees Tom Kowal and Ian Walsh let it all slide. It certainly made for a more free-flowing game than the last Devils-Flyers game, which was loaded with penalties.
The Flyers were the superior team on special teams tonight, for sure. The Devils' lone power play saw them struggle to get set up in their zone. They only had one shot - from Clarkson, of course - and it came out of nowhere. They did not score, snapping their six game PPG streak. The Flyers made the most of their sole man advantage. The Devils maybe only had one real chance to clear it as Philly just hit pass after pass. The goal itself was a bit fortunate but the work before it was all legitimate. Fortunately for New Jersey, that would be the last power play given tonight.
Time is Short for the Room for Improvement: As great as it was that the Devils fought back from being down 3-1 to win 5-3, they need get their heads right soon. They're not always going to face a shaky back-end of a team and score four goals on 17 non-empty net shots. They're usually not going to come out well after getting out-shot in every period. Appreciate the win, but they got a game tomorrow and the bad habits need to be avoided.
Your Reminder: The Flyers are the Second Rate Rivals. And now you know.
That's my take on tonight's win, now I want to know yours. Who was the most impressive Devil on the ice? What was your favorite part of the comeback? How livid were you after the Flyers went up 3-1? Which defenseman on New Jersey stuck out to you tonight either in a good or bad way? How would you have rated Ponikarovsky's first game as a Devil in 2013? What would you like the Devils to do differently for tomorrow's game based on what you saw tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's comeback win in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented and followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter. Thank you for reading.