Decisive hasn't been a word used a lot to describe the New Jersey Devils' performances as of late. For the past few weeks, one could use "unlucky," "unfortunate," "terrible," "two parts good, one part bad," and so forth. The Devils had trouble scoring goals despite winning the possession battle, special teams were an adventure, and the goaltending faltered to really doom the Devils on some nights. Tonight, it was completely different against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Devils scored several goals, starting with three in the first period. Yes, three goals scored in one period. Johan Hedberg had a redemption-like night on Sunday and he continued his strong play tonight. The defense didn't get too loose too often. The team kept attacking with a lead. The result: a 5-2 win over the Second Rate Rivals where the play was better than the score would indicate. Not only was it the team's first regulation win since February 21 (nine games ago), the Devils won decisively for the first time in a long while.
The numbers don't lie for this one. The Devils out-shot the Flyers 32-25 and that was with playing most of the game with a lead. The Flyers did out-shoot the Devils 11-9 in the first period; but it was 13-7 and 10-7 in favor of New Jersey in the following two periods. At even strength, the Devils out-attempted the Flyers both in terms of Fenwick at +13 and Corsi at +15. If you felt much of the second and third period were spent in Ilya Bryzgalov's end, then you were right. The Devils out-scored the Flyers 3-1 at evens on top of that. The Devils' special teams out-scored the Flyers' 2-1. The Devils even drew more calls than the Flyers despite an early 3-0 lead in penalties in the game. You can thank Scott Hartnell for that.
The first period was strong enough. With game after game of "did a lot right but scored," the Devils finally broke out against Winnipeg with two scores on Sunday. Tonight, they took it a step further. First, Patrik Elias took advantage of not being covered by Andrej Meszaroes on a rebound in front and put one past Ilya Bryzgalov. After a wide-open Jakub Voracek scored on a one-timer from the weak side, the Devils got a gift. Adam Henrique flung a puck at the net, it bounced off Matt Read's bottom, and into the net less than a minute after Voracek's goal. A later power play would turn the other way for Philly. Stephen Gionta followed a stop on a dump-in by Peter Harrold by winning a puck from Brayden Schenn. Harrold chipped it up the boards, Ilya Kovalchuk got it past Matt Read, and Kovalchuk drove in and sniped a high, short-side shot to make it 3-1. The Flyers still battled but it was a comfortable lead for a change.
Believe it or not, the second period was even better. The Flyers didn't make it look that way at first as they tried to pin the Devils back. They were successful a full times and came very close to making it 3-2 when Danny Briere swiped at a puck coming across the slot. The puck skittered wide and Alexei Ponikarovsky retrieved it. He saw Andrei Loktionov fly into open space and he hit him with a pass. A two-on-one ensued with Loktionov and Kovalchuk against Braydon Coburn. One brilliant toe-drag and one low shot later, Loktionov not only buried Coburn's jock in Newark but just defeated the Flyers. It's getting it's own breakdown post on Friday so all you need to know from me is that was fantastic - more so than the third and fifth goals by the Devils in my eyes. From that point on, the Devils were mostly in control. They got long shifts in Philly's end, they retrieved pucks easily in their own, and if someone got beat, there was someone in red nearby to help. Hedberg didn't have to do anything brilliant and so the Devils went up 4-1, earned a power play near the end, and out-shot the Flyers with a big lead.
The decisive difference continued when Adam Henrique scored a more legitimate goal early in the third period. He got the puck in the slot, easily skated down to the left side, and just lifted a backhand to beat Bryzgalov short-side. Lovely goal, the Devils went up by four, and the Devils kept attacking. The Flyers got physical in their typical Philadelphia way and so there were some dangerous calls missed and others that were caught. But for the most part, the Devils just kept doing work and succeeding. One of the few things that went right for the Flyers was when Claude Giroux blocked a Bryce Salvador shot at the blueline. The puck went out softly enough so Giroux was off to the races. Giroux nutmegged Salvador and hit Hartnell with a pass that beat Marek Zidlicky. Hedberg went down a bit early and Hartnell roofed the puck to make it 5-2. But it was purely a consolation goal. It didn't matter all that much because the loss was guaranteed at that point. When goals against by a rival don't draw the ire of the fans or even cheers from the visiting fans, it's further evidence that one team owned the night. Tonight, for the first time in a while, the Devils won a game decisively.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Full Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Faceoff Comparison | The NHL.com Devils Time on Ice Report | The Time on Ice Corsi/Fenwick Charts (they're back!!!)
The Opposition Opinion: Travis Hughes did the blogging equivalent of throwing up your hands and just saying "welp" with his short recap at Broad Street Hockey. I can't say I blame him.
The Game Highlights: The Devils scored three absolutely gorgeous goals and two others. Moose made some lovely stops. It's a highlight video of the Devils' first decisive win in weeks from NHL.com, you should totally watch this one:
Let's Rank Goals: Five goals by the Devils. The last time the Devils scored five goals in a game was against the Flyers back on February 15, and that included an empty net goal. This was the first game this season where the Devils put up five on a goalie. And it very easily could have been six had it not been for a few rebounds just not in the reach of the Devils or Ilya Bryzgalov coming up with a last-moment stop. So let's do a quick ranking just for fun.
- Loktionov's goal - Again, this is getting it's own breakdown post on Friday so I'm not going to go into it here. Just know that it's gorgeous. You know what? Just go to this link, it's a video of just that goal. Savor the glory along with Coburn getting so owned, we'd have to called it "pwned."
- Kovalchuk's shorthanded goal - This turned out to be the eventual game winner. It was your usual, "Kovalchuk sprung into space, beats his man to the puck, charges in, and fires a shot so fast you almost can't believe what just happened" goal. Putting it into the top corner short-side was perfect.
- Henrique's backhanded power play goal - I wouldn't blame you if you ranked this second. A backhander is harder to control than a forehanded shot. I just like the shorthanded breakaway a bit more for two reasons. First, it really put the Flyers in a deep hole. Second, if Henrique missed his shot or it got stopped, the Devils are still on a power play, whereas not converting on a shorthanded chance usually doesn't lead to a second one.
- Elias' rebound goal - Boy, did Meszaroes make a mess of things on this play. Not only did he get Elias by the net, but he's the one who gave it away to Steve Bernier in the slot. His shot led to Henrique's rebound chance that led to Elias scoring.
- Henrique's first goal - Fortunate bounce off Matt Read's posterior. Just a good break for New Jersey.
As much as I loathe the Second Rate Rivals, I did feel bad for Ilya Bryzgalov. OK, goals #4 and #5 didn't look so good; but he wasn't the problem tonight. He wasn't losing puck battles, giving away pucks in the neutral zone, and getting pinned. He wasn't getting out-shot despite being behind in the game. Bryzgalov was doing his best to keep the Flyers in it and it just wasn't happening. All he could do was prevent it from being six or seven goals against, and it was entirely possible with the Devils' effort tonight. That's a compliment to the Devils and how well they played as much as it is a criticism of how badly the Flyers performed.
How would you rank the goals? Please leave your rankings in the comments.
Easier Corsi & Fenwick Charts to Show How Devils Pounded Flyers: Time on Ice's scripts work for shots in a game, meaning there are readily available Corsi & Fenwick charts for all players in a NHL game. I don't have to make them myself anymore. So I can easily tell you that the Devils led in attempts at-evens, this game had very few missed shots at even strength according to the Devils scorer, and only two Devils ended up negative in both stats: Henrique and Kovalchuk. That's not a point of criticism since usually a team with a big lead is going to be behind in Fenwick (all attempts except for blocks) or Corsi (all shooting attempts) due to score effects. Besides, we can't say either player did nothing good since Henrique got two goals and an assist and Kovalchuk got a shorty and three other shots on net. It's also worth noting that there wasn't a lot of even strength time for the Devils, even Kovalchuk only had under 11 minutes, so some of the numbers could be skewed. At the same time, that makes me more impressed with the largely across-the-board positive Corsi and Fenwick differentials for the good guys.
I found two surprises with tonight's chart for the Devils was that the best line in possession was Travis Zajac, Ryan Carter, and David Clarkson. They were so close to scoring tonight. Carter was wicked with six shots on net, all at even strength; while Zajac and Clarkson put two on net at evens as well. The other surprise is that the Bryce Salvador and Marek Zidlicky pairing came out well. Salvador may have looked dumb on the Hartnell goal and took a silly interference penalty right after a faceoff, but I can't agree he's a pylon when he's +10 in Fenwick for a game. Zidlicky was close at +8. Salvador and Zidlicky amazingly didn't get a shot on net, though they were blocked out or missed the net.
But as with most blow out-like games, the Flyers got wrecked in possession. Only one line was positive in possession for the Flyers: Matt Read, Wayne Simmonds, and Bryaden Schenn. Not coincidentally, Schenn and Read combined for seven shots tonight. Everyone else got hurt a little or a lot. The Devils made it a long night for Meszaroes, as he finished a -12 in Fenwick and a -15 in Corsi. Giroux, Voracek, and Hartnell were solidly negative in possession. Briere was largely invisible as was Sean Couturier (one elbow excepted) and Simon Gagne and they were also a solid negative. I shouldn't have to tell you that their fourth line was beaten upon as well. Their defense split up the pain and frustration. For an example of the latter, I saw Gervais and Foster both slammed their sticks in unhappiness after a Bryzgalov freeze because they know they messed up on separate occasions.
So, yeah, the Devils beat down the Flyers in possession and scored goals to go with it. Wonderful.
A List of Devils Who Didn't Register One Shot on Net at All Tonight: Adam Larsson (three attempts, all blocked), Zidlicky (eight attempts, five blocked), and Salvador (three attempts, two blocked). The team all chipped in their own way offensively, which is simply great.
Further Evidence It Was a Decisive Win, The Goon Got Minutes: Krystofer Barch played a whopping 16 shifts for 9:32 tonight. I'm not going to tell you he was great, but he really wasn't so awful either. He actually helped on the forecheck on a couple of shifts. With a big lead, there's no reason not to spell the top forwards, especially with a rematch on Friday and a game against a hot opponent on Saturday. I think Barch didn't look so terrible in that regard, though it helped that the Flyers were just playing out the game late.
Scary Moments: In the third period, with the Devils up 5-1 over a rival, you start hoping that no one gets hurt and no one does something stupid. There were two moments that scared me in that regard.
The first happened when Patrik Elias was in on a forecheck, Coburn shoved him down, and just crashed into the boards feet first. He was down on the ice and very slow to get up. Play continued in New Jersey's end while referee Eric Furlatt just hovered over him. I felt the play should've been called dead so Elias could get some assistance. The good news is that Elias did make it to the bench, he only missed a few shifts, and returned to the game in his regular role. It would have been bittersweet to smash the Flyers only to find out the team's top forward - and of course, he had a good night with three shots, a goal, and an assist - was hurt.
The second happened shortly after that occurrence. As the Flyers were attacking, a puck battle ensued on the boards. I don't know who it was, but Barch got hit from behind and just went down. He lied on the ice and this time, the refs did blow the play dead. After some time with the trainer, he was able to get up and to the bench on his own power. Like Elias, Barch did return to the game and took shifts. I felt that was a dangerous non-call by the refs.
hanks, Los Angeles: Andrei Loktionov for a fifth round pick continues to look like a steal. While he wasn't a possession driver at evens tonight (+1 in Corsi & Fenwick) and only had one shot on net, he scored on said shot and really did a great job in keeping things moving. He got significant power play time in addition to a bit over ten minutes at even strength. Loktionov continues establishing himself as part of the lineup, something he didn't (and couldn't) do with Los Angeles.
Who Should Sit on Defense Now?: Suffice it to say, I was largely pleased that the defensive effort that I saw on Sunday against Winnipeg returned tonight. The Devils didn't allow a lot of free shots for Philadelphia and they did a good job keeping rebounds away. They weren't perfect, Moose had to bail out the team a few times, but it wasn't as if Voracek, Read, Giroux, Schenn, etc. had multiple open looks in the slot. I was annoyed that Voracek got that one-timer behind the box set up by the penalty killers. Upon looking at it on video, it may be a case of just being shorthanded did the Devils in. Plus, Simmonds made a really good pass from his position. But that was really it as far as I can recall The team didn't cough it up too much and whatever errors occurred were limited save for Hartnell's goal. I liked what Salvador and Zidlicky overall aside from Hartnell's goal, and I felt Peter Harrold had good moments along with Anton Volchenkov (nice hit on Simmonds). Andy Greene nearly made life difficult for Hedberg by knocking his stick out on one play and Adam Larsson had a bad pass or two; but both made up for it with good plays elsewhere. I really like Mark Fayne. I think he should play. Yet, I have to admit that these last two games make it difficult for me to suggest who should sit for him right now.
Typical Flyer: Scott Hartnell, in some ways, deserves to be a Flyer. He's got talent, he's got strength, and he's just not pleasant to deal with on the ice. He scored on his only shot on Hedberg for the game's consolation goal. His more impressive contribution to the game was his four consecutive minor penalties he took in the third period alone. Seriously: boarding, slashing, unsportsmanlike conduct (matched with Tom Kostopoulos), and slashing again. The Devils didn't score on those power plays and only put up, I think, three shots across all three of them. But the time off the clock helped the Devils secure the win, especially his last one near the end of regulation. Scott Hartnell: Typical Flyer.
Power Play?: Seven total shots on net, none in their first-period-ending PP, a goal on the carry over to Bruno Gervais' closed-hand-on-puck call, and a few on Hartnell's penalty streak. It's hard to be critical as the Devils didn't need to score on them, just keep possession and kill clock. They did get a goal out of their six total calls. The Flyers did a bit more with less. Voracek's goal was clearly the best among their five other shots on net. Yet, they gave up a shorthanded breakaway so their goal was matched. I would prefer the Devils not to give the Flyers early power plays if they can help it as their first two were quite threatening. The Philly power play is not to be messed with.
Carter's Lowlight: As active as Carter was at shooting the puck - again, six shots - his biggest play was one he'd probably would want to take back. He got a tripping call in the first period for taking down Zac Rinaldo. Rinaldo sold his first tripping call that he earned; but he didn't have to for this one. Carter put his leg out and essentially took him out with his knee. Nicholas Scibetta has a video of the incident in question and it's pretty bad looking. It wouldn't surprise me if he did get a call from the league and I wouldn't be too unhappy if he got something for the hit. Knee-on-knee hits are inherently dangerous, after all.
Moose Redemption Game #2: Johan Hedberg had a very good game in net. While 23 saves on 25 shots may not look great, Hedberg was solid as he could be. He held onto the puck well, he made a couple of good diving stops with his pads, and he tracked the puck well. He had no chance on Voracek's goal. I think he went down too early on Hartnell's goal, but he was being aggressive as it was essentially a one-on-one. Still, I don't think too many Devils fans can complain too much about Moose tonight. I and the sell-out crowd at the Rock had every reason to cheerfully yell "Moooooooose!" tonight.
By the way, Hedberg did go out of his net to play the puck several times. As much as you and I rightfully get on him for doing that, he was making the right play on nearly all of them. It denied two potential breakaways for the Flyers, he didn't give it away to a Flyer in a prone position, and he didn't waste time making a decision. Perhaps it's further evidence of a good game from him that he doesn't make any horrifying moves with the puck on his stick.
A Last Point: Don't get cocky, Devils and Devils fans. Yes, the Devils dropped a five-goal train on the Flyers and it was sweet. The Devils will play a likely angry Flyers team on the road next. It's too early to say whether the slump was over. Maybe this was just a one-night burst. How they handle a tough back-to-back will show whether or not their luck is finally turning along with the rest of their play.
Thank you for your patience with this late recap but such are the trains and my desire to give you all the thoughts about this game. What did you think of tonight's game? Who was the best Devil on the ice tonight? What did you enjoy from the Devils' effort? What didn't you enjoy? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments. Thanks to those who followed along in the gamethread and on Twitter through @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.