The Time: 1:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+(HD); Radio - 660 AM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (14-29-3) at the Philadelphia Flyers (31-11-5)
The Last Devils Game: The New Jersey Devils hosted the Penguins after a 3-game road trip on Thursday. They proceeded to put on another solid performance. The Devils went defensive against an aggressive Penguins team, who responded with a dirty performance of their own. Alas, dirt doesn't equal goals. The Devils won 2-0, Martin Brodeur earned his 114th shutout, and I had something good to write about in my recap of the game.
he Last Flyers Game: The Flyers continued showing the league that they are the top team in the Eastern Conference on Thursday night. Philly rolled out to take on Ottawa, rolled over the Senators for 6 goals, and rolled through a line brawl within the last 5 minutes of the game. The Flyers won 6-2, Mike Richards put up 4 points, and Travis Hughes has this recap of the game at Broad Street Hockey.
The Last Devils-Flyers Game: Two weeks ago, the Devils took on the Flyers in Philadelphia. It was the first game after the Jamie Langenbrunner trade and the Devils didn't look all that bad. Johan Hedberg gave up two soft goals, but the team didn't let it become a total meltdown. Martin Brodeur came in relief and performed admirably and the Devils were actually competitive. The Devils still lost 2-1 to the Second Rate Rivals, true. How New Jersey played was a far sight better than what they had done up until that game; that was my main takeaway as noted in my recap. For the other side, Travis Hughes has this short recap at Broad Street Hockey. He praising James van Reimsdyk, who had a notable game that afternoon.
The Goal: Don't just sit in a trap, look to make tactical adjustments. The Devils set themselves up in that familiar 1-2-2 formation, also known as a trap, against Pittsburgh and was quite successful in their 2-0 win. I hope that Lemaire only institutes this strategy today if the Flyers are going to be as aggressive going forward and look somewhat shaky on possession through the neutral zone. Even then, I would be cautious because the Flyers aren't the Penguins. They have scoring depth (8 players with 10 goals or more), they have a diverse group of skill sets among their players, and they're probably aware of how the Devils beat Pittsburgh on Thursday. The Flyers will likely be expecting the trap today and will look to bust it up if they see it. Lemaire and the players must be ready to make adjustments as the game goes on - especially if the Devils get a lead - as to avoid getting beat when the trap doesn't hold true.
I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For Flyers discussion, please check out Broad Street Hockey.This will be the third time this month the Devils take on the Winged P's and it's not like the opponents have changed much since their last two games. The Flyers are a top team. Let's break it down anyway as a refresher.
Their top scorers continue to score: Mike Richards is coming off a 4-point night against Ottawa; Danny Briere has 3 points in his last two games; Claude Giroux and his ridiculous shooting percentage of 19.4% has 5 points in a 4 game point streak; Jeff Carter just had 6-point over 4 game point streak snapped on Thursday; Ville Leino has 7 points in his last 6 games; and Scott Hartnell may be the coldest except that his goal on Thursday snapped a 2 game pointless streak in his last 2 games. I could go further but I'll stop at their top 6 scorers.
I think the point is clear. The Flyers are an offensive juggernaut. They lead the NHL in goals scored per game average with 3.47. Their dominant scoring is better explained with this stat, though. According to Behind the Net, the opposition's save percentage against the Flyers at 5-on-5 is 89.9%. Yes, Philly's collective opposition has a sub-90% save percentage at 5-on-5, clearly the best in the league. To use a technical term, that's "bizonkers." (And for comparison, the Devils are still in dead last with 93.9%.) One of the few offensive stats that the Flyers aren't elite in is their power play conversion rate: 17%, the 19th best in the league. Then again, with an awesome 5-on-5 offense, that's not a lot for Flyers fans to fret over.
What makes this game different is that the Flyers will have Chris Pronger on defense. He returned from injury on Thursday night and had a full night's work with 20:24 of total ice time and 2 assists. I can't comment whether he was solid in terms of positioning and decision making. There could still be some "rust" he has to work out. All the same, that he can come back and play 20 minutes right off the bat can help spell other defensemen who've worked more while he was out. Incidentally, the Flyers have allowed an average 30.1 shots against this season (13th in the NHL) and an average of 30 shots against at 5-on-5 (17th in NHL) per Behind the Net. A healthy Pronger can only help them in that regard.
Behind the defense, though, is a tandem of two goaltenders playing quite well: Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher. Both have done well against the Devils this season, the team has the 10th best goals against per game average at 2.57, and tied for the 8th best 5-on-5 save percentage at 92.5% per Behind the Net. The Philadelphia faithful should feel confident in whoever will start for the Flyers today.
Speaking of starters, the Devils have made the somewhat strange decision to start Johan Hedberg on Friday. Tom Gulitti has the following quote from head coach Jacques Lemaire about why this decision was made:
"Marty won’t be in the net for all of the games. That’s one (reason)," Lemaire said in explaining the decision. "And, two, he’s got to play and depending on how the schedule goes, (Brodeur) has been in for a few games now, so he’s got to get a rest."
With the Devils hosting Florida tomorrow at the Rock, I figured that Hedberg would start one of the two games this weekend. No problems there. But I expected Martin Brodeur to get the start for today's game, just as he has in the last 5 Devils games. Brodeur's played very well as of late, allowing 10 goals on 142 shots (92.9% save percentage) in those 5 games along with a shutout on Thursday. He even held up well after Pittsburgh plowed/hit him at least three separate times on Thursday (wild speculative aside: was this a reason to give him a day off?). Given that the Flyers are an offensive juggernaut, I figured playing the better goaltender would give the Devils the better chance to win. Alas, Hedberg will get this game instead.
Granted, this season is lost, so it may not ultimately matter who starts. Nevertheless, I hope Moose goes out and has a better performance. He got pulled in his last start - against the Flyers - due to two soft goals early in the game, and in the two games prior to that, he allowed two goals due to making a bad decision on a dumped-in puck from the neutral zone. Hedberg has been great at times, but I think it's only fair if he provides a competent level of goaltending today. If the Devils need to have Hedberg stand on his head, then I doubt the Devils will come away with a good result.
Hedberg will at least have the benefit of having a, dare I say it, hot team in front of him. The Devils have cut down on the defensive gaffes, and their forwards have actually been scoring goals. They may have done it against some flawed competition (Tampa Bay and the Islanders are miserable at allowing goals; Pittsburgh did play without Crosby and Malkin); but goals are still goals, wins are still wins, and so the Devils have every reason to feel a lot more confident. Ilya Kovalchuk may only have 3 goals in his last 4 games, which isn't so bad, but it's not enough to just to stop him and call it a night. New Jersey has been getting it done thanks to Brian Rolston finally hustling and bombing some long shots on net; Travis Zajac setting up his new linemates; Patrik Elias continuing to be a straw that stirs the drink; David Clarkson showing signs of his former self; and the dazzling return of Mattias Tedenby this week among other forwards.
One of those forwards who've helped the Devils offense won't be playing tonight. As reported by Gulitti, Nick Palmieri will not play tonight due to an "upper body injury." It doesn't seem serious and I hope he'll be back shortly. Rich Chere noted the following lineup changes at Friday's practice: Tedenby was moved up to play with Kovalchuk and Zajac, Clarkson was moved up to play with Jason Arnott and Vladimir Zharkov, and Adam Mair gets back to forward on the fourth line. I don't think it's too much of a stretch that Lemaire will start with these lines against Philadelphia. Of course, if it's not working out, they'll be mixed up; nobody should be shocked by that, though.
Two weeks ago, the Devils played a decent enough game in a losing effort. Since then, they have went 4-0-1, scored 18 non-empty net goals, and some members have enjoyed their best hockey all season. It has got some people thinking "turnaround." Today's game will be an excellent measuring point to see how far the Devils have come since changing their coach and dumping Langenbrunner. They may not take any points away from the East's top team, but it's immaterial to the Devils now. Playing a solid 60 minute effort for a sixth straight game against an excellent rival team would speak volumes of how improved they really are. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see a win. At the same time, the larger goal of getting the Devils to be competitive cannot be overlooked or assumed to have been met.
Matt will have 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 (or corrections or what-have-you), then please do so in the comments with a link to the source. Lastly, thank you for reading. Let's go, Devils.