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Punchless New Jersey Devils Lose 4-2 to Philadelphia Flyers

Well, the New Jersey Devils showed up for the start of tonight's game against the Philadelphia Flyers.  They had a decent enough first period - at first glance.  Shots were even at 7 apiece and the Devils led 1-0 thanks to a deflection by Dainius Zubrus right in front of Brian Boucher.  I thought Zubrus would be out, but he suited up and claimed a mark on tonight's game when he tipped Anton Volchenkov's shot. 

However, what I didn't tell you were the numerous turnovers the Devils committed that the the Flyers took full advantage.  Some were straight-up giveaways like the gift Anssi Salmela gave to Scott Hartnell in the first period.  Some where neutral zone stops that turned into 2-on-1 rushes, which the Flyers got a couple within the first few minutes of the game.   If it wasn't for some luck and Johan Hedberg being extra alert, the vistors could have pulled away early.

While they didn't score, their consolation prize was a gameplan for the rest of the night.  Sit back and wait for the Devils to make a mistake.  And when - not if - they botch a pass or just dump the puck, get it and fly down the other end of the rink.   Eventually, the Devils' good luck (or the Flyers' bad luck) ran out, Hedberg was forced to be miraculous, and the Flyers scored when Moose wasn't lucky or already in position. 

Full credit to the visitors.  They made the game a tight, defensive affair with the shots ending 20-20 per the game summary.  Yet, the big difference between the Devils' shots and the Flyers' shots was that the Flyers tended to have them on the rush and looked for that man in the slot or on Hedberg's for a shot.  And on three occassions, they were rewarded with goals.  The Devils struggled to crack through the Flyers' defense to put up good shots on Brian Boucher, and so the goaltender stopped what he could - beaten only on a deflection and a breakaway.

Basically, as with many Devils losses this season, New Jersey wasn't effective on offense and their defense got exposed be it with a turnover or not having the right position on a player or getting caught in a tough spot and paying for it anyway.  Not at all a smart or complete effort, much less a smart or complete performance.

Once again, you'd have to look outside the rink to see anyone in a Devils jersey putting in a full effort.  And tonight that would have to be the members of ESC in Section 117, who kept it loud all game long.  I tried to chant along way on the other side of the arena, but alas, I was the only one who knew what they were saying given my experiences in the South Ward at Red Bull Arena. Still, I have much respect to those who support the Devils boisterously and I hope you all come back for another game.

I have further thoughts on tonight's game after the jump.  Please visit Broad Street Hockey for any Flyers coverage.

One additional note: this is the recap for the game.  Yes, Jamie Langenbrunner did not play tonight and he's apparently on the trading block.  Per Tom Gulitti, he's been asked to waive his no-trade clause; but nothing has happened yet - and no one in New Jersey is saying anything right now.  Do not talk about whether he's been traded or where he should be traded or who he should be traded for or what stupid non-sourced nonsense rumor you just heard that you have no link to in the comments.  If you want to do that, do it in the comments to this FanShot.  Keep in mind if that if something is not from Gulitti or Chere or a reputable reporter, then take it with a grain of salt only. That all said, please talk about this game in the comments to this post. The game. Not trades. Thank you.

While Jamie Langenbrunner didn't play tonight - and if he will be traded then that makes sense, why risk the player's health or his effect on the team if he knows he's gone? - I'm more confused that Mattias Tedenby was scratched tonight.  You'd think with the Devils' offense punchless as it was against Minnesota on Tuesday that a speedy winger with good puck control would be desirable.  Yet, Tedenby was scratched again.  It's not a case of Jacques Lemaire hating on young players, as Nick Palmieri (and his 12:31) is evidence against that notion.  I don't know why he's scratched, to be honest.  Yet, if the plan is to not play him, then please send him down to Albany.  Let him at least play because I can't imagine watching the Devils getting torched from a luxury box is all that educational.

Also, Matthew Corrente was scratched so Salmela played.  Salmela was terrible tonight.  From his turnovers to his being out of position to his tentative reactions, it's clear that he's not getting the job done in the NHL.  He's got me missing Corrente, which says it all.  Yet, he got 15:41 of total ice time (no, really), wasn't on the ice for a goal against, and so he'll probably play some more despite his shakiness. 

Speaking of guys who may need to sit down, let's consider Johan Hedberg. Hedberg made a lot of fine saves.  He absolutely robbed Andreas Nodl in the second period.  Hedberg also made some critical mistakes, mostly dealing with trying to play the puck.  For the second night in a row, he goes out of his net on a dump in and completely misplays it. This one is worse because the dumped puck hits the end boards and bounces out past Hedberg and all of his equipment right to Scott Hartnell.  Hartnell puts the puck in for one of the easiest goals he'll score this season and what was a 1-0 game became 1-1 all because of Hedberg.  A big moose-take, if you're into puns.

That wasn't even the only error,  here's another that should have been a goal scored by the Flyers.  A little bit after robbing Nodl, he decided to try to play the puck with his stick to clear it away; only to knock into traffic, have the puck bounce to a Flyer in the slot who had Moose beaten dead to rights. The only reason why it wasn't a goal was because the Flyer skied the shot over the net.  Throw in some poor passes behind his net, and it's clear that Hedberg needs to stay in his crease.  Hedberg is not Martin Brodeur; he should always look to cover it up when it's near him (which he's done until recent games) or let it go.  If this is how he's going to perform going forward, then I really don't see how he's going to some kind of difference maker.

Ultimately, as awful as the first goal allowed was along with his attempts to play the puck himself, Hedberg was hung out to dry on the other three goals against. Here's the game highlights video from where you can see the saves and the goals I will be discussing from here on out along with those already mentioned.  Do know that I don't blame you if you want to cry or smash something upon seeing the first goal by Philadelphia.

The Flyers sucked out all of the momentum with a late second period goal.  Prior to the play, the Devils were just without offense in the second period.  It took over 16 minutes of play before they got their first shot on net (thank you Ilya Kovalchuk).  Their second shot on net came when Andy Greene sprung David Clarkson on a breakaway, which he beat Boucher.  There was no initial call but a video review confirmed that Clarkson got the back pipe. The fans roared, Clarkson had to feel good about scoring his first goal since November 24.

Yet, the 2-1 New Jersey lead was short-lived when Ville Leino blew past Brian Rolston, took the puck into the corner, threaded a pass past Greene, and Hartnell one-timed it past Hedberg right at the top of the crease.  Anton Volchenkov was in the area, but was behind where Hartnell was crashing the net.  I can't really fault Hedberg on a point-blank one-timer.  I can fault Greene for first taking the risk in playing the pass and coming up empty and Volchenkov for allowing Hartnell to get inside position on him.  I can even fault Elias for coming in late on Hartnell crashing the net, since the slot is usually the realm of the center to backcheck.  Feel free to disagree on who to point the finger(s) at.  

It can be agreed upon that the worst part of this goal against was that it happened a little over a minute after Clarkson's goal with a little over a minute left in the second.  Sure, going into the third period 2-2 isn't bad, but that it could have been 2-1 with a defensive stop is deflating.  It's not like the Flyers rolled through the Devils in the second period, they only put up 7 shots on net.  The Devils cut down on the turnovers and the forwards were backchecking well, especially Ilya Kovalchuk - which explains why he was out there on the end of some penalty kills tonight.   Yet, Hedberg makes a mistake and that's one goal against and the second goal against erased whatever lift Clarkson's goal could have provided.

And the deflation continued. The Devils attack went mild and the Flyers got the benefit of an early power play.  Colin White went off for a slash, but the penalty killers held the Flyers to little.   The PK units did well tonight, holding Philadelphia to two shots on net over 8 minutes.  However, just after the first White minor ended, the Flyers rushed up with a perfect set-up.  Leino takes it up, gets around Kovalchuk in the neutral zone, and carries it in on the right side. Fraser correctly focuses on Leino to keep him outside, but Travis Zajac is also turned to Leino.  Two Devils on one Flyer in a 5-on-5 situation?  Someone's open.  Both Danny Briere and Jody Shelley are on the other side with Henrik Tallinder being the only skater in red in front of him.  Shelley goes to the net, Tallinder sticks with the better player.  But Leino makes a perfect pass to Briere in the slot.  He then uses Tallinder as a screen in the slot as he curls around the defender to shoot, and he beats Hedberg.

I was originally mad at Tallinder for the play, but upon looking at video of the goal, I'm more baffled why Zajac decided to help Fraser on Leino instead of going to the center where he's supposed to go.  Fraser had Leino to the outside; why in the world did Zajac not go to the slot to help Tallinder out with two streaking Flyers going at him?  Also: White was coming out of the box, so it's not like there was a right wing ready to charge down that side to help Tallinder.    Still, a move through the neutral zone, a poor defensive decision, and a shot in the slot makes it 3-2. 

Sure, the Devils start getting a little more desperate to attack, but it ended it up costing them with - you guessed it -  a turnover.  Dainius Zubrus is trying to cycle the puck with Patrik Elias, but Zubrus' pass misses Elias along the boards and goes right Briere.  Remember how I said the Flyers planned to wait for a mistake and then rush forward? Well, it would finally pay off on this play.  Briere and Hartnell go off to the races, with only White back and Tallinder trailing behind Hartnell since he was too far up when Zubrus lost the puck.  White goes to Hartnell as best as he can, since he's got to keep moving back while going laterally.  After a few odd-man rushes, this would be one where Philly finally converts on the chance.  Only Briere's attempted pass to Hartnell hits White's skate to beat Hedberg on his flank.  With 8:26 left to play, it's 4-2 Philly and the Devils hadn't done anything since the Clarkson goal to make anyone think they'd come back.

Only the incredibly optimistic would think they could do it.  Keep in mind that the teams were even at 5-on-5 shots at 18-18 per the event summary.  Yet, the Corsi chart at Time on Ice for this game shows the Devils largely negative except for the fourth line of Tim Sestito (+2), David Clarkson (+6), and Rod Pelley (+4) (along with Volchenkov and Palmieri).  Not even the Corsi wizard Vladimir Zharkov was positive. This is especially good for Clarkson, in addition to scoring a breakaway goal and going a whole game against Philly without taking a penalty.  As fed up I was with him on Tuesday, I can gladly say he had one of his better games.  I hope it means more confidence from a player whose swagger is sorely missed.

Reagrdless, no Devil had more than 2 shots on net, and that's not only an indictment on the players expected to be offensive (e.g. Kovalchuk, Elias, Arnott) but also the secondary forwards (e.g. Brian Rolston, Palmieri, etc.).  That the Devils only were blocked 5 times and missed the net 12 times on top of 20 total shots tells me that the Devils weren't even getting in spots to shoot.  Not that the Flyers were brilliant, but they did attempt more shots.  Even though the second period wasn't similar to past second periods where the opposition would beat up NJ and take their lunch money, they worked harder in getting it forward. 

And the one line that did the most damage in terms of getting the puck forward against the Devils?  The group that got all 4 goals tonight: Leino-Briere-Hartnell.  In case you're curious as to who drew them up in match ups, the most common names I see for the three at Time on Ice's 5-on-5 head to head ice time charts are Rolston, Zubrus, and Elias.  Yeah, the hardest working line for the opposition picked on Rolston more than anyone else.  The defensemen were varied, as Lemaire tried to see if any of the three could shut them down.  Unfortunately for the coach, they couldn't be stopped tonight.  When they saw an opening, they charged ahead smoothly and effectively. The other Flyers had other success, but these three tore it up tonight.   Keep an eye on them for Saturday's game.

And so the Flyers won handily and will have a good idea on what to do on Saturday afternoon to win again.  Might I suggest to the Devils to work on their transition game and their defensive coverage? If only so they don't struggle to get to 20 shots on net whilst not giving up lanes to the most dangerous parts of the ice?

Such is my take on this game. It's a rambling one and for that I apologize; with all of these losses and how they happen, it just runs together.  What's yours?  What do you think the Devils should do after a game like this?  What can the Devils do to spark their offense to at least get shots on net?    Do you think the Devils have any shot in Philadelphia on Saturday?  Please leave your thoughts and feelings about tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to all the commenters in the Gamethread and thank you for reading.