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Game 26 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Philadelphia Flyers

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The Time: 1:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+(HD); Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (8-15-2) at the Philadelphia Flyers (15-7-4)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils players weren't prepared, the coaches weren't prepared, and the fans weren't surprised (or remotely content) with the performance. The Montreal Canadiens laid a beatdown on the Devils 5-1, and if you want to read a rather frustrated and angry recap of that game, then my recap would suffice.

The Last Flyers Game: You know how Tim Thomas shutout the Devils 3-0 a couple of weeks ago?  Tim Thomas managed to pick up another shutout over the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night.  The Bruins put up 3 goals Thomas was massive, and the Flyers lost 3-0 at home which led Travis Hughes to give the netminder his due in this recap at Broad Street Hockey.

The Last Devils-Flyers Game: You know, the Flyers owned most of the game from 5 minutes left in the first period to the end of regulation.  Yet, Johan Hedberg held strong as he was only beaten once by a fluke goal amid 40 other shots on net.  The Devils hung on to win in the shootout for their first win within the Atlantic Division and over a rival.  My recap can be found here, though I was a bit harsh on how the Devils did.  For the Flyers' side, Travis Hughes had this take at Broad Street Hockey. The Devils are 1-0-0 over Philadelphia this season.

The Goal: An actual gameplan and the will to execute said gameplan.  Yeah, I'm lowering the bar again after the Montreal game.  But I can only realistically hope for the simple things for New Jersey. Plus, I wanted to be nicer than to grouse "play like a NHL team."

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump.  For the Philly take, please read Broad Street Hockey.

I want to talk about the Flyers first. A lot of what I wrote for the preview of last week's still applies. This team is rather good.  If they play anything like they did for most of last Saturday's game, I would be shocked if they didn't blow the Devils away.

Still, not all is well and good in the land of the Orange and Black.  They lost their last 3 games. Their offense has stalled in recent games, and Tim Panaccio of CSN Philly pointed out the recent issues in this article. (h/t: Broad Street Hockey).  The main takeaways: the Flyers have only scored 3 goals in their last 3 games, and their power play is 2 in their last 38 opportunities.  Devils fans can certainly understand how that feels, what with the Devils' power play being a total misnomer and New Jersey only scoring 3 goals in their last 4 games. 

Unfortunately, I feel that plays right into Philadelphia's hands.  Yes, they are in a lull. What better time to wake up, get skating, and starting feeling good again like playing a rival?  Especially a rival who you lost to in a shootout despite having been the better team on the ice for much of the game.  The Flyers will certainly be looking for some measure of revenge.  Except for Dan Carcillo.  The enforcer/diver will be pumped if just plays, as Sam Carchidi pointed out that he is now physically cleared to play hockey again. 

As for the Devils, well, it's more of the same, I suppose.  Coming off a bad loss that has made Devils fans wretch, knowing that if the defense and goaltending isn't perfect, then the Devils are toast because the offense certainly hasn't done anything to make anyone think they are dangerous. As reported by Tom Gulitti earlier on Friday afternoon, the team had a meeting prior to practice where they watched the entire game against Montreal.   Needless to say, it was an instructional moment.  I also think it was the right thing to do. As much as I have grown displeased with John MacLean and his coaching staff, it's a mature and intelligent action to force the players re-watch a bad hockey game and understand what went wrong.

At least, I hope they understood what went wrong.  To be cynical, this isn't the first time there was a meeting of sorts, players-only or otherwise, the particulars say all the right things to the press, and the following games are up in the air as to whether anything improved.  Maybe for a game or two before it seemingly all goes back to what it has been all season: frustrating losses.  It's nice to see Jamie Langenbrunner tell the press (Gulitti in this case):

"I think the words are a lot the same, but I would hope that, at least what I got from it was the urgency of the words," Langenbrunner said. I think what was said should hit home with a lot of guys."

However, how many times have we, as fans, heard something like this before?  Alas, we shall see if this particular meeting will have any effect, starting today.

Langenbrunner also said this telling quote, again reported by Gulitti:

"It was a combination of thinking and playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played out there," Langenbrunner said. "It involves playing with emotion, but it also involves playing smart and having your head in the game., It’s one thing to go 100 miles an hour, but if you’re not playing within the system we have in, it doesn’t do any good. There are certain things that are put in place for the structure and for the team to play under certain guidelines so the guys can trust (each other) and if you’re not doing that you’re shooting yourself in the foot."

One, there's a system? Huh. Two, am I the only one who read this and thought, "Does this mean the coaches aren't holding players accountable or are the players just not buying in and/or listening to the staff?"   Three, what has Jamie Langenbrunner done himself to be in this supposed structure?  Be behind on most plays, not pick up open men in your end, and make some bad passes?

Going back to today's game, Gulitti did get confirmation from MacLean that Johan Hedberg will start in net for the Devils.  Hopefully his confidence isn't in the dirt after being yanked incredibly early on Thursday night against Montreal.  Hopefully the Devils won't require Hedberg to stand on his head as they did last Saturday. Gulitti also learned that David Clarkson is just fine.  I thought he was injured for sure given the way he was carrying his arm while directly going to the bench in the final minute of the third period on Thursday.  Fortunately, he's not injured - which is impressive given the amount of people on the injured list.   I'm going to wildly guess at this kind of lineup:

Ilya Kovalchuk - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner
Patrik Elias - Jason Arnott - Mattias Tedenby
Brian Rolston - Dainius Zubrus - David Clarkson
Rod Pelley - Adam Mair - Stephen Gionta

Colin White - Henrik Tallinder
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Anton Volchenkov - Matthew Corrente

Johan Hedberg
Mike McKenna

If it were up to me, I'd take Rod Pelley or Stephen Gionta out for Alexander Vasyunov, and give that fourth line a little more offensive skill.  It's not like the line has been hanging and banging, they've been more like hurrying and worrying at evens.  Since Vladimir Zharkov continues to be not-called-up, why not give Vasyunov some limited minutes?  It's not like the Devils need all three of Pelley, Mair, and Gionta for killing penalties now that Langenbrunner and Elias are back.  That said, I am guessing MacLean keeps that fourth line together as he has been in the past few weeks; and if things don't go so well, he'll stupidly stick Kovalchuk there to ensure Kovalchuk doesn't do anything crazy like score or set up a goal.

I'll be frank, I don't like the Devils chances.  The Flyers may have had some recent turbulence but they're very talented, they're at home, and they have plenty of reasons to get a result over New Jersey given last Saturday's game.  The Devils dropped a mess on home ice on Thursday and who knows what we're going to see this afternoon after yet another meeting.  I don't think it's defeatist to say that Philly has a clear advantage in terms of situation and form.  Still, I will hope I am proven wrong.

The Gamethread will be up later, closer to game time.  In the meantime, please feel free to discuss today's game in the comments.  If you want to post any news updates, then please do so in the comments with a link to the source.  Last and not at all least, thank you for reading.  Let's go Devils.