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Game 63 Preview: Devils vs. Philadelphia

Today is a big game, and it usually always is when it's between two hated rivals. The New Jersey Devils, winner of their last two games, takes on the Philadelphia Flyers, the loser of their last game.

The big reason why it's a big game can be seen where both teams are currently in the division:

New Jersey 62 40 19 3 83
Philadelphia 60 33 17 10 76

(updated 3.1.2009 at 8:42 AM EST)

The Devils are only ahead of the Flyers by 5 7 points and Philadelphia has 2 games in hand. Should the Flyers win in regulation, those games in hand become more concerning for the Devils. Should the Devils win in regulation, their lead becomes more comfortable. Essentially, this game is worth 4 points - 2 to the team that wins and it prevents the other from getting 2 points closer. Clearly, we'd like to see the Devils in regulation.

The Devils have played excellent hockey at both ends of the rink in their last two games, winning each by a margin of four against Colorado and five against Florida. The team has been quite assertive on offense with a total of 78 shots and 11 goals in those two games. Don't forget about the defense, only allowing 41 pucks Brodeur's way. You really can't complain about either, really.

I think that a one reason for the performances has been the return of Devils legend Martin Brodeur to the lineup. With his return, the team just has this extra bit of intensity to perform well for Brodeur - not make him become the hero just yet. I also think that a second reason is that the Devils, after a bad three games last week, wanted to step up their game for the stretch drive. Whatever the reason is, they have worked hard, they didn't play down to two teams playing poorly, and they have earned every one of their dominating wins. Perhaps they will continue playing that way today (I hope so!).

Martin Brodeur is getting his third post-injury start today in four days according to Gulitti. I don't think Devils fans should complain. Brodeur has faced a total of 41 shots in his last two games and at no point was he ever swarmed with shots. I also think that if the Flyers want to worry about one player, they should focus on this man:

2008 - Zach Parise 62 38 38 76 25 22 12 0 6 3 268 14.2

He's just a goal scoring machine and, quite frankly, the Flyers defense should only hope to contain them.

The Flyers are a better team than Colorado and Florida, and they are returning a big player to their line up today. Per, Daniel Briere has been activated from IR. Before his groin strain, he was a point per game player in his nine games and the pivot has been a fine player for Philadelphia. He's also an expensive player, and the Flyers had to send down Lasse Kukkonen and Claude Giroux to create the cap space for Briere's return. This FanPost at Broad St. Hockey explains some displeasure at Giroux being sent down and Travis Hughes even agrees saying it's just a numbers move. I don't know, they're getting back Briere at the cost of a player with 11 points in 21 games. Maybe Giroux's game is better seen than read, I guess.

Regardless, I would hope the Devils assume the Flyers to get a big lift out of the return of Briere. Even if he didn't return, this team still features Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Simon Gagne - three players who A) are having excellent seasons and B) will almost definitely put plenty of shots on Martin Brodeur. They are the biggest threats Yet no one should discount Mike Knuble or Scott Hartnell, they both have contributed mightily to the Flyers' cause as the two also have more than 20 goals already this season. Needless to say, Brodeur will get a lot of work today. It'll be up to the Devils defense to just contain them as best as they can.

It'll also be up to the Devils to limit the number of penalties they commit. According to Broad St. Hockey, one of the big factors in the Flyers' loss to Montreal in overtime was a pathetic power play. The Flyers went 0-for-8, and I can't imagine they didn't hear about it from the coaching staff. Given that the team has the fifth best power play this season at 22.2% effectivness, they'll turn it around and it could be today. Expect an aggressive power play from the Flyers and the defense should watch Carter (11 PPG) and Knuble (9 PPG) very closely. (And of course, the Devils' power play should make sure Richards doesn't get the space to break through with the puck.)

It would be best if the Devils can break down the Philadelphia defense early and establish control of the game - something the Devils did very well in the Colorado and Florida games. However, that won't be likely. The Flyers won't be having any of that unless they just come out half-asleep. I would expect a hard-fought and a close game. The sort of game you'd expect from rivals. Check out Broad St. Hockey for the wrong Flyers' side in this game.