New Jersey Devils at Philadelphia Flyers: Game 43 Preview

David Clarkson scored a goal in the last Devils-Flyers game. He has scored two out of 56 shots since that night. - Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The New Jersey Devils will take on the Second Rate Rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, for the final time this season. This preview goes into what went wrong for Philly this season and still asks whether New Jersey will score a goal among other points.

Forget a miracle run to the postseason that isn't going to happen. Forget even winning for the moment. Can the Devils just score at least one goal tonight?

The Time: 7:30 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - NBC SN, MSG+, TSN; Radio - 660 AM, 101.9 FM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (15-17-10) at the Philadelphia Flyers (19-21-3; SBN Blog: Broad Street Hockey)

The Ticket Link from TiqIQ for Tickets: If you're in the Philly area and you support the Devils, then you're doing it right. Good job! You have the ability! You should reward yourself by going to the game. Go visit our partners at TiqIQ to find something on the secondary market: New Jersey Devils tickets.

The Last Devils Game: Everything. But. The. Goal. The Devils controlled a majority of the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on their ice. They heavily outshot them. They heavily out-attempted them. They drew more calls. They crashed the net more. They hit more posts (one to none, so posts should be post). They did almost everything you would want a team to do to win a game of hockey at the professional level. They did not win because, again, the Devils did not score. Blame James Reimer and Lady Luck. Phil Kessel fired a shot through Mark Fayne's legs on a power play created by a silly decision by Marek Zidlicky and that was the game. Jay McClement put up Toronto's thirteenth shot of the game with an empty net goal to make it a 2-0 loss. My recap of the very familiar-as-of-late type of loss is here.

The Last Flyers Game: The Flyers hosted the New York Rangers on Tuesday night. The Flyers recently beat down Montreal on Monday so they hoped to continue to spoil playoff-bound teams. They got the job done. Brayden Schenn scored on a rebound just before the ten-minute mark to put Philly up 1-0. Eric Gustafsson one-timed a shot from distance to double the Flyers lead in the first period. Early in the second, Mats Zuccarello-Aasen scored his first of the season. But the Flyers responded with a power play blast by Kimmo Timonen halfway through the second to retain the two-goal lead. The Rangers brought the house and threw the kitchen sink at Steve Mason in the third period as the visitors out-shot the Flyers 17-4. Derek Stepan made it a one goal game 7:24 into the third, but Mason - believe it or not - held strong among the pressure. Yes, Mason was the superior goaltender to Henrik Lundqvist in a competitive game of hockey. Jakub Voracek iced the game with an empty netter to make it a 4-2 final score. Ben Rothenberg has this recap of the victory over at Broad Street Hockey.

The Last Devils-Flyers Game: Back in the middle of March, both the Devils and Flyers still had playoff hopes that weren't at all unreasonable. Well, they were starting to for Philly. Anyway, the Devils beat the Flyers the day before and were hoping to sweep a back-to-back set with their first game in Philadelphia of the season. The game itself was pretty sloppy. There was a comedy of errors in the first period as a 2-on-2 that ended with Andy Greene and Adam Larsson crashing into Johan Hedberg as Simon Gagne fed Maxime Talbot for an easy score. Moose would be far stingier and luckier as the game went on. The Devils did answer back in the second period when David Clarkson re-directed a shot by Bryce Salvador past Ilya Bryzgalov. The Devils and Flyers were very close to breaking through at times, but post-regulation play was required. OT didn't yield a goal, though Patrik Elias and Zidlicky had a juicy rebound right in front that they just couldn't get fully over Bryzgalov. In the shootout, well, the Flyers won. At the time, the loss was not a huge deal since the Devils took three out of a potential four points. Little did we know the future. Anyway, my recap of that game is here. For the opposition's opinion, Kurt R. had this to say at Broad Street Hockey.

The Goal: I could be cute and say, "Score one" and leave it at that. I don't do cute or the obvious. So here's something I noticed from the last two Flyers' games, both wins with 11 total goals scored. They really like to look for one-timers. In the 7-3 win against the Canadiens, Voracek potted in a one-timer right at the crease, Scott Hartnell converted a power play in the slot with a one-timer, Claude Giroux slammed one in the slot, Hartnell got a second one on a power play but near the right post, and Hartnell got a hat trick with one from the high slot at even strength. In their recent win over the Rangers, Gustafsson scored off one and Timonen did one right off a faceoff win. That's seven one-timer goals. It wouldn't surprise me if they attempted far more, but that's something the Devils need to be careful of tonight. When executed well, one-timers are incredibly difficult shots to stop if not outright impossible for being on the goalie's flank. If the Devils can force the Flyers out of their rhythm in passing, deny the supply, or just get in the shooters' way, then they could make their lives easier tonight while continuing seemingly Herculean-effort to score a goal of their own.

The Flyers may not be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs but for all intents and purposes, they will be. What went wrong in 2013? They're not hurting for goals. Just look at their top nine forwards. On paper, they look fantastic. They have two with over 40 points this season: Claude Giroux (13 G, 31 A, 123 S) and Jakub Voracek (19 G, 24 A, 111 S) - both excellent players who were on the same line against the Rangers. If there's one unit Peter DeBoer wants to get strong match-ups against, then it's probably that one. Hopefully, that means Andy Greene, who's been more of a boss in recent weeks. The Devils skaters should keep an eye out for #28 and #93 among others. They have strong, gritty players with more than enough talent to do more than physical damage in Scott Hartnell (7 G, 3 A, 65 S, 27 GP) and Wayne Simmonds (12 G, 15 A, 95 S). They have players with plenty of offensive skill with Danny Briere (5 G, 10 A, 76 S, 29 GP) and the reacquired Simon Gagne (4 G, 10 A, 65 S). They even have some young talented players who can be a thorn in the sides of opponents for years to come: Brayden Schenn (8 G, 16 A, 69 S), Matt Read (9 G, 11 A, 63 S), and Sean Couturier (4 G, 10 A, 68 S). They even have a defenseman who's been rather productive in Kimmo Timonen (5 G, 24 A, 77 S). As a team, they have the third best power play success rate in the league at 22.9%; the team has been led by the eight PPGs of Voracek and six PPGs each from Giroux and Simmonds. They've been clicking as of late with 11 goals in their last two games, too. Looks to me their offense is just fine.

Or is it? Several other team stats point to the fact that their offense has some flaws in it. First and foremost is possession. Go to Behind the Net's page for team Fenwick% and you'll see the Flyers hanging out at around 48%. The only situations the Flyers have been above 50% in getting their shots through more than their opponents this season is when they're losing. They're not nearly as bad as Toronto, but that's not good either. Now, a team can overcome a low Fenwick% if they're good in other areas. The Flyers are not. Per Behind the Net's team 5-on-5 stats, the Flyers are around the league average in SF/60 at 27.9 and just outside of the bottom ten in shooting percentage at 7.8%. That's not a lot of shot generation. While they are terribly unlucky, they haven't been all that fortunate either. (I'm going to love reading that, say, Giroux and Voracek lack skill in response to that last sentence.) Sure, the Flyers are for real with a high SF/60 in 5-on-4 situations and they're tied with New Jersey for fourth in the league with 157 power play chances. This means the Devils - looking at you, Zidlicky - really should make a point of it to not take unnecessary penalties; the Flyers can seriously make them pay. However, a majority of the game is played at 5-on-5 and the Flyers really haven't been that great there. That's a problem because the other end of the ice has been a liability for Philly all season.

I'm talking about the defense and goaltending. Well, more the goaltending; but first, the defense. Actually, the Flyers' defense hasn't been all that awful even with Kurtis Foster suiting up for them in 20 games in 2013. They're below the league average in SA/60 in 5-on-5 play at 28.3. Their penalty kill success rate is the sixth highest in the league at 84.6% and their 4-on-5 SA/60 is the fourth lowest in the league (and just behind the Devils). In the big picture, it seems to me they're doing a pretty good job, especially on the PK. However, their issue is with depth. The Flyers' blueline has been hit with injuries (e.g. Braydon Coburn, Kent Huskins, Bruno Gervais, Andrej Meszaroes, Nicklas Grossmann) and lackluster play beyond their main guys. Therefore, if Timonen and/or Luke Schenn have a good night, then guys like Olivier Lauridsen, Foster, and now Brandon Manning have to step up. Gustafsson has already been asked to as his average time on ice is now over 19 minutes. Given that the latter three average less than 15 minutes per game and for good reason, it's a challenge. Just look how deep Lauridsen and Foster are in the hole in possession at Behind the Net along with several other Flyers defenders. It goes without saying that the Devils should try to pick apart the four defensemen not named Timonen or Schenn tonight.

Then there's the goaltending. Oh, the goaltending. Philadelphia is next to dead last in team save percentage in 5-on-5 play with 89.8%. They are one of two teams below 90%. I won't insult your intelligence by saying that this has been an issue. Ilya Bryzgalov hasn't been humongous big this season with a total save percentage of 89.7% and an even strength save percentage of 90.5%. Bryzgalov was playing a ton this season because Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton shown that they were just awful in limited action. Enter Steve Mason. Yes, the Columbus goalie who had one hot run, got a big contract, and fell back into reality. If I recall correctly, Mason had a superior save percentage this season to Bryzgalov even before stopping 38 of 40 against New York on Tuesday night. He's also sitting at a 90.5% save percentage at evens but his hot PK save percentage brings his total of 90.8%. Not great but an upgrade nonetheless. Well, at least in the short term based on the long history of Flyers goalies that start out hot that Eric T put together at Broad Street Hockey. Still, the Devils should bomb away on whoever gets the start. You're not going to score without shooting and it's not like Mason has been fantastic all season. They should test the goalies and force them to do the unlikely: be super.

In spite of good special teams, talent on offense with two top scorers in the league, and a defense that has performed better than their names suggested, the Flyers get out-attempted without blocks on a regular basis, the Flyers' goaltending has undercut them quite a bit, the name-filled offense hasn't been so hot in 5-on-5 play to make up for it, and depth on defense has been a serious issue. Throw in some bad luck and there you have a team not making the playoffs. They'll certainly be a handful tonight. They did just knock off two playoff bound teams, score a lot of goals, and even got a great performance out of Mason. Philly may be playing for pride but they've been recently successful. Also, the Devils haven't scored since last Wednesday against Boston so at this point any opponent will present a challenge until, you know, some goals are scored.

Regarding that, will the luck turn tonight? Lou may not believe in it based on what he told the press on Tuesday (link to Gulitti's post with the quote) and you may be inclined to agree. To paraphrase an electrifying man, it doesn't matter if you or Lou believes in it or not. Probability and randomness exist regardless of belief. Everything isn't controllable. You may not like reading it and I don't like writing it, but it's imperative that the Devils keep pushing the effort as they have been for most of this winless streak. They're not just getting shots, but very good looks. If they keep getting them, then they'll eventually go in. Patrik Elias, David Clarkson, Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, and so forth haven't forgotten how to play hockey in the last two months. The goal(s) they'll need to win won't happen if they stop trying. You probably know this but it must be written anyway.

You also probably know that the team will be without Ilya Kovalchuk once again. While he practiced on an actual line on Wednesday, he will not be traveling with the team according to this post by Tom Gulitti. A game in Philly is probably not the best case scenario for someone returning from an injury given Philadelphia's style of play for lack of a better term. Especially if you feel the Devils don't have a whole lot to play for. In other injury news, Bryce Salvador is apparently hurt enough that the team brought up Alexander Urbom from Albany on an emergency basis on Wednesday. He could be just a spare defender in case there's further injury as Anton Volchenkov's suspension still has two games left. I would expect the same six defensemen that we saw against Toronto to play. Hopefully, Henrik Tallinder and Adam Larsson can build off of having two good games. Likewise, I hope Zidlicky cuts his unnecessary penalties from two in the last game to zero in this game.

As a final point and more of an aside, given that it's been just over 120 minutes since the last goal by the Devils, I will promise to do a goal breakdown of the first one scored by the Devils. If they score tonight, then it'll be up on Saturday. If they don't, well, I'll be really unhappy and move on to the next day. I really want to do one if only to showcase that, yes, the Devils scored a goal and how it all happened detail by detail.

Will the Devils score a goal? Do you think the Devils keep the Philadelphia offense at bay? I assume you would be pleased if the Devils beat the Second Rate Rivals, but if they don't, would you, say, not be so unhappy about it? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments.

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