Tonight, the New Jersey Devils hosted the Philadelphia Flyers, who iced a mixed lineup of regulars and players on the fringe as they will play tomorrow night. The Devils had a nearly full strength lineup and it showed in their play. The Devils took control of the game, pinned the Flyers back repeatedly, and just kept pouring on the misery in a 4-1 win. It was a very enjoyable game to watch.
That said, I wouldn't get too excited. It's preseason, which means this doesn't really count. Also, tonight's Flyers roster was missing key players like Claude Giroux and Kimmo Timonen. I don't think tonight's Devils squad just rolls through the rink if they played the Flyers' lineup from Tuesdays game. I want to stress that the victory in of itself is not really indicative of how the Devils will be in 2013-14. In fact, the Devils were missing a few players will undoubtedly be regulars such as Patrik Elias and Jaromir Jagr. That could have made this game even uglier for the orange and black, come to think of it.
However, the big takeaway from any of these games are the performances. Overall, the Devils were sensational. They found holes the Flyers' gameplan early and kept exploiting them over and over. The Flyers kept trying to physical but the Devils were undeterred. Guys in red shirts would win battles along the boards and constantly find their teammates open for outlet passes to get the play away. The Flyers' defensive effort was unorganized and the Devils found plenty of spaces for shots. When the Flyers did manage to get the puck going forward, the Devils hustled back to defend and force them to take some weak shots. The Flyers were held to a mere 13 shots on net and I don't think the stingy scorer missed any. The Devils nearly doubled that, out-shot them in each period, and controlled the game for the most part. This may have been expected given the differences in lineup quality, but you can't ask for much more from what the Devils did tonight. Well, there's only one aspect of their game that deserves criticism, but let's get to that in a bit.
The Opposition Opinion: Broad Street Hockey may not have a separate recap since they didn't have one for Tuesday's game. So let me point you to this comment by Kurt R in their gamethread. He tabulated the Corsi for the Flyers and while Corsi counts in a preseason game means next-to-nothing in the big picture, it highlights how ugly this game was from a possession standpoint.
The Devils Highlights: The New Jersey Devils' official website had a video stream of their scoreboard for the game, so they have a Devils-centric highlight video. It's basically all four goals the Devils scored and some not-so-dangerous-looking stops by Cory Schneider.
Let's Get This Out of the Way First, The Power Play was Bad: The one part of the Devils' performance tonight that wasn't at all good was their power play. After plenty of calls in the first period, the Flyers handed the Devils three full power plays. The first one wasn't too bad at the end of the first period, but they didn't get much going until it was almost up in the second period. The other two were just two minutes spent without much going New Jersey's way. In fact, on the third one, I believe Marek Zidlicky coughed the puck up at the blueline to Matt Read. Read went off to the races, Zidlicky fouled him from behind, and Read beat Keith Kinkaid for the shorty. Not only did the power play end up -1 in goal differential, but they got out-shot by the Flyers' penalty kill 3-2. The team struggled to gain the zone despite doing so with relative ease at even strength and didn't really threaten with the puck. This was one of the concerns with the team going into the season and it looks like it will still be one when the games begin to count.
Mason Wasn't Bad: Yes, Steve Mason wasn't bad tonight. He really can't be faulted for the goals allowed. The first one was a point-blank one-timer from Ryane Clowe to Damien Brunner. Brunner charged right to the top of the crease and Clowe's pass had to be on target to make it count. It did, Brunner's velocity carried him into Oliver Lauridsen, and the team went up 1-0. About a minute later, Steve Bernier managed to elude all five Flyers and just hung out to Mason's left. Seriously: no one picked him up. Andrei Loktionov got the puck to him, Bernier put a shot on net, collected his rebound, made a move, and put it past Mason. Later in the second period and after a shift where Michael Ryder duffed a one-timer that had the left side of the net open, Adam Larsson fired a hard shot that Dainius Zubrus got a piece of. The deflected shot went through Mason, off the post, and in. He even got beaten once in the first period on a point-blank one-timer in the slot from Dainius Zubrus, though the goal was wiped out due to a hand-pass. I know Mason's statistics in net were poor and I know it will be delightful that Philadelphia will have to rely on him at points in 2013-14. But he didn't have that bad of a game. He got scored on plays that would have beaten elite goalies. He didn't give the Devils any gimmies or made poor decisions in net. If the Philly faithful wants to get on someone's case or the Devils fans want to jeer a Second Rate Rival player from tonight's game, then they should look at the skaters in front of Mason.
Among the five, the most guilty parties are Gustafsson, who just strolled in Bernier's direction after Bernier's first attempt, and Holmstrom, who should have been aware of what's going on behind him and did nothing at all to help out on the play. Holmstrom just floated there. It was the sort of play that drives coaches crazy; I'm sure Peter Laviolette wasn't pleased with his guys tonight.
New Devils Look Good: I would say that tonight's game featured the best from Ryane Clowe, Michael Ryder, and Damien Brunner in preseason. Clowe was very active along the boards, he won plenty of battles, and he showed that he's a good passer with both outlets from the board and his killer pass to Brunner for his goal. Good actions from #29. Ryder kept making attempts while playing with Rostislav Olesz and Adam Henrique at evens. He had eight attempts, four got on net, he should have had a goal in the second period but an empty netter to ice the game counts the same. I liked what he brought to the ice tonight in general; he's an offensive player and he contributed plenty to it. His linemates kept setting him up, which would explain why neither didn't have one shooting attempt tonight. Brunner was brave on his first goal and he just kept darting around all game long. He looked good with Clowe on his opposite wing. I didn't think Olesz did a whole lot but his effort was as good as anyone else's tonight.
Big Little Big: I enjoyed watching the line of Zubrus, Loktionov, and Bernier. The two wingers crashed hard against a Philly team that definitely played with an edge and came out ahead, usually with the puck. Loktionov was in constant motion and just kept pucks alive. I don't know if that will last into the season but it was a fun grouping.
A Top Pairing: Adam Larsson and Andy Greene played just a bit more often than Zidlicky and Bryce Salvador and they were the best defensive pairing on the ice tonight. They were solid in their own end, with few errors. Each moved the puck out of the zone very well. In the offensive zone, Greene was constantly involved. He had seven attempts on net, he jumped up on plays, and even followed his own rebound from the point on a third period shot - with little issue. The Flyers let him have that space and Greene took it. It was one of those nights from Greene where he did a lot, plenty was good, and you wonder why he doesn't have a better rep in the league. Larsson only took one shot, had one other shot blocked, but that one shot was good. Peter DeBoer played Larsson more than any other Devil at 21:36. That could mean that the coaching staff is ready to let him take a big role in 2013-14. He's been very good in preseason so he's definitely in a good position to start well.
Even He Wasn't Too Bad: Cam Janssen actually had a good game! Well, by the very low standards one must apply to that kind of player, he was good. The play did not die when he was on the ice. He didn't take any penalties or do anything dumb. He notably kept fighting and winning for position down low from Luke Schenn on one shift in the first period that just surprised me since he's been such a black hole throughout preseason. He even had a shot on net. Yes! A shot on net!
This doesn't mean I actually want Cam Janssen in New Jersey. I'm just saying his night was good. By the same token, that's how bad the Flyers were - even Cam Janssen looked good against them.
Speaking of Janssen, Only One Devil Played Less Than Him: Key player Stephen Gionta! Janssen played 11:24 overall (no special teams, obviously) and Gionta played 10:38 (44 seconds on a penalty kill). Granted, it's not by much. He was on a line with Jacob Josefson and Janssen all game long so their ice times should be similar. I figured I should just throw that out there.
Flyers Defensive Follies: I noticed early on in the game that the Flyers felt certain parts of the ice didn't need to be covered. Like the left of Mason in the first period or around the slot in general. Defensive efforts include all five skaters and it didn't seem to me that they were communciating with each other or rotating their position as needed. They tried to muscle it out but the Devils battled back in all cases and even drew three penalties from their attempts. Flyers defenders still had problems with forecheck. It's my understanding that this was a game for Hal Gill, Oliver Lauridsen, and Erik Gustafsson to really make their case to be on the Flyers. All three stunk. The vets, Schenn, Nicklas Grossmann, and Andrej Meszaroes (who's probably happy Mike Sislo was sent down to the AHL after Tuesday night) also stunk. And some of the forwards, like Ben Holmstrom and Jay Rosehill, were astonishingly bad in their own end. The Flyers' full lineup won't be as bad but I'd think Laviolette's got some work to do beyond his established top players.
Cory's Moose Moment: Very early in the game, Cory Schneider went behind the net to play the puck. No big deal, right? Well, he coughed the puck up behind the net. The puck quickly went to Scott Laughton, who had plenty of net to shoot at as Schneider was still trying to get back into position. He thankfully hit the post. That was the closest the Flyers came to scoring on Schneider in the two periods that he played in. Schneider has been excellent at stopping pucks but playing them behind the net has been adventure. I've been saying he's a massive upgrade over Johan Hedberg but apparently he handles the puck just like him. Hopefully, he'll try to work on this in practice.
By the by, the Devils were doing so well, DeBoer put in Keith Kinkaid for the third period. He had little to do with only four shots against. The one goal he allowed was a shorthanded breakaway that I'm not mad at him about.
Earl's Dance Party: Still great.
The Rarest Situation: Thanks to a run of penalties, those at the Rock and watching or listening to the game got to witness a very rare situation in regulation. Three on three hockey. Matching minors were given to VandeVelde (tripping Volchenkov) and Peter Harrold (taking exception to the trip, which took Volchenkov out). On the four-on-four situation, Wayne Simmonds went down (and it looked like an easy fall for the big, strong winger) after Travis Zajac got a little bit of his skates with his stick. That was called a trip; but on the ensuing 4-on-3 for Philly, Sean Couturier lost the puck. Salvador pounced on it and while he was clearing it out, Couturier slashed him. So we got 3-on-3 hockey. Not much happened in the less-than-a-minute it lasted. It's always worth noting because it's so rare to see in regulation.
RIP: Denis Brodeur, Martin Brodeur's father, goaltender for Canada's bronze medal winning team in the 1956 Winter Olympics, and longtime Montreal sports photographer, passed away earlier this day at the age of 82. A moment of silence was held at the arena before the game. On the behalf of the other writers at ILWT, our condolences to the Brodeur family.
General Thoughts on the End of Preseason: Preseason games are now over for the New Jersey Devils. They played six of them, they had some good games (I think tonight's was the best, but the Brooklyn game was very good, too.), some not-so-good games (The first Isles game and the Montreal game come to mind), got some players on minor injuries, no one sustained anything major, and won four of the six games. The results are now worthless. The performances will remain on tape and in the organization's memory to help determine who to call up, who to send down, and who to keep. The next important date for the Devils is September 30, where they have to be cap compliant (they currently are) and meet roster requirements (they have to cut five more players) by 3 PM. Then, the regular season will begin in Pittsburgh on October 3.
Who do you think had the best performance on the Devils tonight? What part of the team's performance did you enjoy the most? How can they get their power play in order? How in the world was Steve Bernier so wide open for his goal? Who among the fringe players do you think made their best case to be on the team based on this game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments. Thank you for reading.