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Game 31: Devils vs. Philadelphia

It's a rainy, snowy, cold winter mess out here in New Jersey and with any luck, we'll see a metaphorical mess of Orange and Black all over the ice of the Rock with the goal light getting weaker and weaker behind Philadelphia's net because it's been on so much that the bulb is beginning to wear out.

Of course, that will not likely happen as Philadelphia is a very good team.

Both teams have been just as hot, if not hotter, than the Devils since November. In fact, both teams are 7-2-1 in their last 10. The Flyers are sitting 3 points ahead of New Jersey and 3 points behind first-place Rangers with a record of 18-8-6. Their offense has been massive, with only San Jose, Boston, and Detroit having scored more goals than them this season. And what's more is that they are not a total sieve, the Flyers have been getting some good performances out of Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki. Most recently, yesterday, the Flyers dropped a hammer on the Washington Capitals to the tune of 7-1. The Flyers withstood an amazing 48 shots from Washington and Niittymaki got almost all of those. Just as amazing for the Flyers is that much of those 7 goals came from their "secondary forwards." We know how skilled, productive, and dangerous Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter (who got a brace in that game), and Mike Richards have been this season. They remain to be the big threats for New Jersey to stop. New Jersey can't afford to let Lupul get into space, have Hartnell skate about causing chaos, or let Kimmo Timonen make a decisive pass into the zone to set up a scoring change, as well as not able to afford Gagne/Carter/Richards to do what they want.

2008 - Joffrey Lupul 32 11 10 21 -3 21 4 0 3 0 66 16.7

2008 - Scott Hartnell 32 13 11 24 3 52 3 1 3 0 84 15.5

2008 - Kimmo Timonen 32 3 19 22 5 26 2 0 0 0 44 6.8

Fortunately, the Devils have a number of things going on with them in this game. First, what's also going against them is that, according to Gulitti, Bryce Salvador isn't going to play. His "upper body injury" is keeping him out. Andy Greene will start another game and the defense should look like it was against Ottawa. No disrespect to Greene, but I'd rather have Salvador out there, positioning himself up to block shooting and passing lanes against the Flyers rather than Greene. From the same post, we also learn that John Madden has "flu-like symptoms," so he's a game-time decision for today's game. Personally, I'd like this to mean he has the flu; but you can never tell sometimes. Basically, he's sick and we don't know if he's playing. He might be, though I'd rather him feel better - I can't imagine a sick Madden doing well (though I'm sure it's happened before). That said, I'd also rather have a checking forward like Madden battle against the best of Philly rather than cycling between Mike Rupp and Bobby Holik at center with Sheldon Brookbank getting minutes in the vacant spot. Both of those guys did well against Ottawa, but Ottawa's best forwards were split up on Friday and they were awful altogether. The Flyers will perform much better than the Senators. Again, no disrespect to Brookbank, but Madden is preferable for today's game if he's good to go and not vomiting a whole lot. Third, with the weather the way it is, who knows what kind of support in the stands the Devils will have. I'll be there with my "YES!" sign; but who knows how the makeup of the crowd will be (70-30 Devils? 60-40? Who knows?) at the Rock.

Let's get positive now. Earlier this month, the Devils went into Philadelphia and pulled out an overtime win in a close, competitive, intense game. If the team seems to lose confidence, they can remember that game (most of the rosters have remained the same since then) and use it as a starting point for motivation. Second, if we are to believe past history, the Devils should do well in the afternoon. Granted, past history may not have an effect on today's game; but it's good to know going in. Third, the Devils definitely have the confidence of getting wins over division rivals (like, well, the last Philly game, 4-1 win over Pittsburgh, 8-5 win over Our Hated Rivals).

Fourth, and most of all, the offense - especially the power play - should have plenty of confidence in scoring goals. They put up 5 on the Senators, a team that had given up a mere 73 goals all season going into the Devils game. What's more is that 3 of those 5 goals came on the power play, which is remarkable. Paul Martin has switched with Brian Rolston on the point and while I wouldn't say it made all the difference; it gives the units more balance. It also helps when Patrik Elias and Zach Parise are not only working well together but also playing extremely well for the past month or so: Elias got 2 goals and 2 assists against Ottawa and Parise had 4 assists (again!). I don't anticipate the offense to suddenly cool off short of a defensive masterpiece by Philadelphia. Therefore, I expect to see them forecheck with some aggression and continue to take the puck to the net.

Regardless (because of?) of the weather and the recent form of both teams and how both teams have some excellent forwards playing some excellent hockey, today's game will certainly be a great one to watch. Both teams don't like each other, their games tend to be intense affairs, and both teams are good teams that want to use this game to make their case of being one of the best in the league. Hopefully it'll be the Devils, playing soccer beforehand and playing great hockey during, getting two points today. Feel free to discuss the game in the comments below; just keep it clean, keep it relevant, and keep it Jersey.