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Game 59 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. Philadelphia Flyers

The Time: 7 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (36-20-2) vs. the Philadelphia Flyers (29-25-3)

The Last Devils Game was the Last Flyers Game and the Last Devils-Flyers Game: Well, it was.

But seriously, the Devils get off to a good start and as a testament to the last 30 days of Devils hockey, it was all fouled up and resulted in a loss to the Flyers.  The Devils went up one in the first period thanks to Zach Parise's pass on a power play bounced into the net due to Chris Pronger's skate.  In the second period, Anssi Salmela drove to the net on a shorthanded chance, scored, and then got blindsided by Jeff Carter and his shoulder, literally knocking him out of the game. While Salmela would be up and walking in the back, the Flyers rose to the task on the ice.  Their power plays, while fewer than New Jersey's, got more and more momentum and they made New Jersey pay.  Late in the second, the Flyers equalized in less than 90 seconds thanks to James van Reimsdyk's deflected shot (shot deflected off Andy Greene's stick) and Mike Mottau showing an inability to defend on a 2-on-1 making it easy for Carter to score an equalizer.

The power play for both teams ended up being the difference maker. The Flyers scored on their one with a point-blank shot by Mike Richards.  Despite drawing 3 in the third period (all by Zach Parise), the Devils couldn't find the goal to re-take the lead/get the late equalizer. The Flyers won, 3-2, and lead the season series 3-1.  For my recap,  I called the game a punch to the stomach for Devils fans, losing the way the team did to a hated rival and rambled a whole bunch.  Travis Hughes of Broad Street Hockey, like most Flyers fans, was jubilant at the team getting some actual goals. 

The Goal: Do what you say, be what you can be.  Tom Gulitti reported that Jacques Lemaire had a talk with the players on the ice on Tuesday.  Here's the gist of it, per Lemaire, Jamie Langenbrunner, and Gulitti providing background:

"It was just to know where we stand," Lemaire said. "We’re looking for wins definitely. It’s obvious that we’re not playing our best hockey. We’re not consistent. We have a very good period and then an average period and we’ve just got to be more consistent."

From where I was sitting, it didn’t sound like Lemaire ever raised his voice and players confirmed that.

"He was just pointing out some of the reasons why things aren’t going so well," Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "Not doing it in a screaming way or anything like that. Just pointing everything out. We’re not far away, but it’s little things that have added up to a big thing."

It would seem that some of the problems are obvious, defensive zone breakdowns, failure to get to the net to create screens and for rebounds, drops in intensity at key moments that result in quick goals against—the Flyers scored twice in the final 1:36 of the second period Monday night to erase a two-goal deficit and went on to win 3-2.

Sometimes it’s helpful, however, for the coach to remind the players of what’s going wrong.

Well, it's good that the problem is recognized.  That's the first step to fixing it. The next step is to work towards solving it.  That happens tonight.  We hope.  Do as you say, and be the team you can be.  Go to Broad Street Hockey for the Flyers fan's perspective.  Read on for my further thoughts.

Since both teams played each other on Monday and there's probably not going to be a whole lot of changes for either side.  The Devils called up Rob Davison to fill in for Anssi Salmela, as Gulitti noted he was in practice on Tuesday.  I offered my reasoning on that as well as a whole lot on Mike Mottau here.  He'll play tonight.   I would certainly hope Vladimir Zharkov gets back into the lineup in place for one of the "enforcers," so I will guess the lineup that way.  As usual, don't be surprised if I'm wrong:

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner
Ilya Kovalchuk - Dainius Zubrus - Patrik Elias
  Jay Pandolfo - Rob Niedermayer - Brian Rolston
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond - Dean McAmmond - Vladimir Zharkov

Andy Greene - Bryce Salvador
Colin White - Mike Mottau
  Rob Davison - Mark Fraser

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

As for the Flyers, per this tweet from the team, Paul Holmgren says the doctors are still evaluating Ray Emery's hip (h/t Broad Street Hockey).  While things could change, I highly doubt that Ray Emery will be in net tonight if he's still under medical evaluation.  Besides, Michael Leighton did a good job against New Jersey's 30 shots (9 from Ilya Kovalchuk, 6 from Jamie Langenbrunner).  I'm sure the Flyers faithful would be happy to see him in net again. 

2009 - Michael Leighton 22 1182 10 7 56 2.84 579 523 .903 1

As far as their game plan goes, expect to see the same thing seen on Monday: plenty of board play, plenty of cycling, and forwards playing aggressively in the neutral zone.  They got some goals out of some of their best players on Monday, they're likely feeling good and confident - something that the Devils will have to crush quickly.

Now, let's have a little talk about the power play.  Before you ask, yes, they did practice that on Tuesday per Gulitti.  The Devils have been using four forwards on each power play unit, and that's a little understandable as the team has 7 forwards who have useful skills for the power play: Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Dainius Zubrus, Jamie Langenbrunner, Patrik Elias, Brian Rolston, and Ilya Kovalchuk.   Of this group, three have been/are used on the point: Langenbrunner, Kovalchuk, Rolston.  The defensemen have been Andy Greene and Anssi Salmela, more for their puck control than anything else. The injury to Salmela has resulted in Mike Mottau getting that spot; again, not a big deal since the defenseman's not playing a big role outside of keeping the puck in play.

In the last two games, I've noticed that A) Kovalchuk is pretty much on the ice for the whole power play and B) the other Devils want to get the puck to him.  I'm a big proponent that a power play needs to be patient, find open men, and set up a good shot on net.  If it doesn't score, fine, but maintain possession and threaten the opposition at least.  Kovalchuk has excellent vision and a hard shot, getting him the puck isn't a bad idea per se.  It's only a problem when that becomes the whole tactic, even Kovalchuk is going to have trouble firing a bomb at an angle if the penalty killers just drop back and create more traffic for the shot.  It doesn't necessarily work to the advantage of the talents of Parise, who does his best work down low, or Elias, who sets up from the sideboards for the open man.  Kovalchuk's a great player and when he has the shot, he's going to take it, which he should. But when it becomes predictable and it isn't working, the Devils need to try something different.

I don't think the Devils are short on talent or need another point man, but they would be wise to mix up the looks.   In fact, I wonder how it would work with Kovalchuk at wing instead of at the point, leaving the slapshot to Rolston (which is his best asset) and Langenbrunner (not perfect, but he keeps it low). They should rely less on the dump and chase unless they are flying out there.  With Kovalchuk, they have several players who can beat defenders one-on-one at the blueline.  This way they can get the puck into the zone and perhaps get more mid-range and close-range shots as opposed to moving the puck to the point constantly. 

I'm emphasizing the power play because if the Devils go 1-for-7 and only get 8 shots on the netminder across 12+ minutes, then it will be opportunities lost at best and a reason for defeat at worst.   It's one thing if the goalie is playing out of his mind; but it's another when the team either struggles to get the puck into the offensive zone or when they do, they just play it to the back over and over.

In general, the Devils will need a 60 minute effort to beat the Flyers. As mentioned, the team hasn't been consistently good and when they aren't so good, that's where the game becomes a loss.  A good, effective power play should be a part of such an effort.  Solid, steady defense definitely is a part of such an effort.  Disciplined play against a rival better be a part of that.   Again, do what you say, be what you can be, Devils.

Steve will have the GameThread up later. Normally, this is where I'd say that I would be in Section 1, Row 16, Seat 5 for the game.  With the impending snowstorm on Wednesday, it's likely going to be incredibly difficult just to get the train station much less head up to Newark (not to mention heading back from Newark after the game).  So that seat may very well be empty. Believe me, I don't like missing Devils games unless I have to or there's something crucial happening elsewhere.  So don't expect a good crowd, just hope for a good game for the Devils.  I know I will.   Leave all your thoughts and feelings about tonight's game in the comments. Go Devils!