This was cool on Wednesday. It would be cool to see it again in Philadelphia tonight. - Bruce Bennett
The New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia Flyers will play each other again tonight, this time in Philly. This preview highlights why the Devils can't get cocky going into this one and other thoughts about this rematch.
Tonight's a rematch from Wednesday night and the potential for hostility is high.
The Time: 7:00 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+, NHL Network US, RDS; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The TiqIQ Ticket Link: If you're in the Philadelphia area, then you might as well head on down to whatever bank owns their arena now and go to tonight's game. TiqIQ can help you out in getting tickets: New Jersey Devils tickets.
The Last Devils-Flyers Game: The Devils beat down the Flyers on Wednesday night on national television and it was so, so good. Patrik Elias opened the scoring on a second rebound early in the game, the second straight night where the Devils scored first. While Jakub Voracek answered with a power play goal, Adam Henrique got a very fortunate bounce off Matt Read less than a minute later to make it 2-1 New Jersey. Later in the first, Ilya Kovalchuk got sprung for a shorthanded breakaway by Stephen Gionta. Kovalchuk sniped the top right corner over Ilya Bryzgalov's left shoulder and the Devils actually scored three goals in a period. The Flyers would show some fight early in the second, but Andrei Lokitonov sucked all the wind out of their sales when he led a 2-on-1, made Braydon Coburn look like a scrub, and fired one low to make it 4-1. The Devils kept attacking and came very close to making it 5-1, which they did early in the third on a power play. Adam Henrique received the puck in the slot, had the space to come down to Bryzgalov's left, and roofed a backhander. Yes, the Devils scored a PPG, a SHG, and three at evens. Scott Hartnell scored a consolation goal late in the middle of taking four minor penalties in the third period. It only served to make the score closer than the actual game. The Devils won their first game in regulation in weeks and it was a wonderful night for New Jersey. My recap of the game is here. For the other side, Travis Hughes just said the Flyers were bad in his sort-of recap at Broad Street Hockey.
The Goal: Don't get cocky. The Devils played a great game on Wednesday. Not perfect, but games rarely are, if not impossible. The Devils didn't caught in too many odd-man rushes, they covered for each other well, they were able to effectively move the puck in and through the neutral zone, their forecheck found success, they kept up their offensive attack even with a big lead, and, oh yeah, they scored five times on a goaltender. And three were absolute beauties. It was a wonderful performance by New Jersey. Therefore, the Flyers cannot be happy about what happened on Wednesday. Tonight, they'll get a chance at revenge in front of their home crowd, a place where they are 8-4-1 compared to their 4-11 record. Keep in mind that the Devils haven't been so successful on the road in general (4-6-3) and this will be their first road game against a rival this season. This Philadelphia team has plenty of offensive talent, Ilya Bryzgalov isn't so bad when the guys in front of him play well, and they know they need to get winning right now should they want to play beyond April 27. The Devils have to be resolute and keep playing their game even if Philly goes up early or if the Devils don't find immediate success. They must keep up the pressure as they did in the third period when up 5-1. If they come into this one relaxed and after the big win, then they may be in for a rude awakening.
This is going to be one of the shorter previews of the season. I went over the Flyers' strengths and weaknesses at length in the preview for Wednesday's game. Do check that out for the numbers and such. The short version is that their power play is very strong, they have plenty of offensive talent, and they play a mean game. They demonstrated all three points on Wednesday night. The Flyers' power play was one of their high points, even though they gave up a shorty to the most dangerous shorthanded player on the Devils, Ilya Kovalchuk. They moved the puck effectively and when Wayne Simmonds gets in position to the right of the goaltender, he's able to pick spots easily. Speaking of Simmonds, he was one of the few Flyers who did well along with his linemates Matt Read and Brayden Schenn. Expect that line to remain effective tonight. Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux remain a big threat, especially on the same line even though they were mostly playing in their own end on Wednesday. As far as the meanness, once the score went up 4-1, the elbows came up (I saw one big one from Sean Couturier) and Scott Hartnell managed to take four straight calls in that third period surrounding his consolation goal. All of this is present on their roster and it will make for a difficult game no matter how much the Flyers fans lament their team's current position.
One area on Philly's side that might change would be their defense. Luke Schenn was a late scratch on Wednesday with the flu. Since he was on their top pairing, everyone else got their assignments changed and Kurtis Foster stepped in. The Devils pinned Andrej Meszaroes a lot and Bruno Gervais and Kurtis Foster looked like they were in over their heads. Should Schenn be healthy enough to play tonight, that should help the Flyers out. Or at least help Ilya Bryzgalov, who didn't always have the support of the guys in front of him on Wednesday.
The Devils we saw on Wednesday will likely be the ones we see tonight. Tom Gulitti tweeted earlier today that there would be no supplemental discipline from Wednesday's game, so Ryan Carter will be active. I would have thought Carter would have at least been fined by the league for his knee-on-knee hit on Zac Rinaldo. Anyway, the team held an optional practice on Thursday. Gulitti's report at Fire & Ice stated that while Dainius Zubrus (without a stick), Henrik Tallinder and Martin Brodeur skated, they will not go down to Philly. Gulitti confirmed in this Fire & Ice post that Johan Hedberg would start tonight. Someone would have to sit for either Mark Fayne, Stefan Matteau, and/or Harri Pesonen to play and I'm not quite sure who it should be. Before you say Krystofer Barch for a forward, remember that tonight's opponent is an angry Flyers team on their ice. Some beef appears to be necessary for a game like this.
All the same, I am looking forward to see what the current lines can do again. I want to see Ilya Kovalchuk carry it in and make plays with Andrei Loktionov. I want to see Patrik Elias be his wonderful self and do many good things with Adam Henrique and Steve Bernier. I want to see whether David Clarkson will get back to scoring ways and whether Carter and/or Travis Zajac will help him out. I want to see Peter Harrold continue to be OK. I want to see the defense remain strong in their own end (tip: be careful about getting blocked at the blueline to cut down on rushes against). The team did win big on Wednesday so I'm really interested to see if they can build upon it.
As a final point, the Flyers may have another motivating factor to provide a more ferocious game. Sam Carchidi at Philly.com reported on Thursday that general manager Paul Holmgren insisted that Peter Laviolette was not going to be fired and he blasted the team's effort. When the GM makes a sudden conference and states "If there were 100 puck battles, I don’t know if we won a handful of them," the message to the players isn't subtle. The message to the players given in private is likely even more blunt. So on top of their season being on the brink, getting a rematch at home against a rival who pounded them in their last game, and their general collection of talent and grit, the GM's making noise. The Flyers could prove to be a far different squad than they were on Wednesday night. Again, Devils, don't get cocky.
What's your take on tonight's game? Can the Devils make life miserable for the Flyers? Will the Flyers come out on fire and make this a rather difficult one for the visitors? Who will make the difference tonight on either team? What will the Devils have to do to make it two straight wins against the Flyers tonight, other than the obvious answer? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.