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Game 31 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Philadelphia Flyers - 12/12/2009

The Time: 7 PM EST

The Broadcasting Info: TV: MSG+2 (yep, commence complaining...elsewhere); Radio: 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (21-8-1) vs. the Philadelphia Flyers (14-14-1)

The Last Devils Game: It was not a good game for the Devils. The Devils didn't give a 60 minute effort, but their opponents, the Florida Panthers, did and scored some fantastic goals. The winning streak was snapped at 4 with a 4-2 loss and I wasn't happy with the performance. But it could have been worse...

The Last Flyers Game: could have been something like what Philly had against Ottawa on Thursday. The Senators held off Philadelphia and shut them out in spite of being on the road and being outworked, per this recap from Broad Street Hockey. The Flyers couldn't solve Brian Elliott and Travis Hughes - along with many other Flyers fans - is unhappy with how the team has performed.

The Last Devils-Flyers Game: In Philadelphia, the scoreboard was closer than the game that was on the ice. The Flyers outplayed the Devils and if it weren't for Martin Brodeur, the score would have been a rout in favor of the Flyers. The 3-2 loss by New Jersey snapped their road winning streak at 9 and then overall winning streak at 8. I recapped the game here; for the Flyers' side, Travis Hughes recapped the win over at Broad Street Hockey.

The Goal: Passing, passing, passing, PASSING. I want to see passes that hit their targets, that aren't straight giveaways to the other team, aren't leading their target into multiple opponents, and aren't easily read by defenders. You can easily tell when it's going to be a long night for the Devils and it's when they struggle moving the puck up ice in making those passes. It's not that the team doesn't have good ideas, an observer can see that if the passes got to where they needed to be, then the Devils' offense would be raking in the goals. And that's the problem - the execution isn't there and the team struggles to adjust. This was a problem yesterday and this was a problem in the last Devils-Flyers game. The Devils fans just have one simple request: a win over the hated Philadelphia Flyers. They're not going to do it unless their passing improves tonight.

Read on at Broad Street Hockey for the Flyers' point of view on tonight's game as well as a current state of their affairs. Continue after the jump for my further thoughts.

Now, the last two opponents were teams that were struggling in the NHL - the last-place Carolina Hurricanes and a Florida Panthers team mired in a haze. As proof to the theory that there are no doormats in the NHL, both of these teams were quite competitive against the Devils. In comes the Philadelphia Flyers, who now have a new coach but that has generated little momentum as the team remains in the bottom of the Atlantic Division (they are only ahead of the Islanders since they have played fewer games) and 2-8-0 in their last 10. The frustration continues for the Flyers faithful as Travis Hughes of Broad Street Hockey wrote this after their 2-0 loss to Ottawa:

Six games, three shutouts. Watch America's Most Wanted this weekend and maybe we can find out who kidnapped the Philadelphia Flyers offense. With the exception of one game against the New York Islanders, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, James van Riemsdyk, and Danny Briere have been invisible over the last month.

I don't know what to think and I don't have answers, but this team just can't score. They have absolutely zero confidence. Maybe a trade is necessary to shake up the offense. Maybe they just need Simon Gagne, Blair Betts, and Darroll Powe back in the lineup. Maybe we overrated them and they're just bad. I simply don't know. With the amount of games coming up in the next few weeks -- really, up until the Olympic break -- they can't afford to continually give up points like this. It's frustrating, not to mention depressing.

Today, Travis put up this commentary emphasizing how important the next set of games are for the Flyers.

Now, it's up to them to respond and show they have something to prove. They have to take this personally. Richards has to lead the charge, emotionally and on the ice. He can set the tone for this team early on, and he'll have to against the Devils for the team to have any success. It's not that Richards has to score a goal in the first ten minutes. But when he's at his best, he's zipping around the ice, doing anything possible to make a high-percentage play. He has to set that tone, but his linemates and the other goal scorers on the team have to follow. That means Danny Briere, Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, James van Riemsdyk, and most of all, Jeff Carter, have to match his intensity.

This should be a concerning point. All of the previous Flyers named are very talented. This is a team that should be scoring tons of goals, but aren't. The Devils absolutely cannot just rely on their continued failure. This is a rivalry and the Flyers were very amped in both games between the two teams - two losses for the Devils. If anything, I'd forget about the recent struggles down in Philadelphia and expect the Flyers to come out, well, flying. Maybe I'm overreacting a bit; but given that the recent performances, especially the games against Carolina and Florida, nobody should be underestimated even if their recent form is terrible.

As far as the Devils are concerned, well, I hope I made my point about the passing. So let's focus on guessing a lineup. The Devils didn't practice this morning, so Gulitti and Chere will have the facts later this afternoon. It sounds weird, but Martin Brodeur hasn't exactly got a lot of work as of late. He's faced a total of 122 shots, or an average of 24.4 per game, in the last five games. The Detroit game was the only one where he faced more than 25 shots, much less 30 (he faced 31). Given that and the fact that Our Second Most Hated Rivals Who Have a History of Looking Good but Falling Apart in Hilarious Fashion (OSMHRWHHLGFAHF) is coming to the Rock tonight, I would think Brodeur would be starting.

With respect to goonery because OSMHRWHHLGFAHF has a history of making it look "mean," I wonder if Andrew Peters or Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond would be inserted into the lineup. If it were up to me, I wouldn't bother as the fourth line has played well together recently and no one else in the lineup needs to be benched - just play more consistently better (I swear this is a phrase), that's all. So I would guess the same lineup that was seen last night, except ZZ Pops starts the game again:

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner
Brian Rolston - Patrik Elias - Nicklas Bergfors
Jay Pandolfo - Rob Niedermayer - Vladimir Zharkov
Rod Pelley - Dean McAmmond - Ilkka Pikkarainen

Andy Greene - Bryce Salvador
Colin White - Mike Mottau
Mark Fraser - Johnny Oduya

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

As usual, check up with Gulitti and Chere will have the updated info later today. I'll take care of the GameThread, though my commenting will be a bit sparse so I try not to enter comments as action is on the ice. Do join in commenting all the same. Until then, please leave your thoughts and comments here. Go Devils!