In comparison to Friday night's game, the New Jersey Devils looked a million times better tonight. Passes were much crisper and mostly on-target. Puck movement through the neutral zone wasn't always an adventure. Then again, that shouldn't be a surprise. Those rosters were as different as night-and-day since Friday's squad was mostly a 'B' team and tonight's was more of an 'A' squad. Tonight could accurately be described as a final dress rehearsal where the Devils played most of the team that will be seen next Saturday.
I'm sure there will be a few changes to be made, there are still some tough decisions left to be made for the active roster to be made by Lou, Peter DeBoer, and the rest of the staff. It's those decisions that I think most fans will be asking with respect to this game. Did anyone make a good final case to be on this team? Will anyone lose their spot in the roster due to not playing well? Is there any reason to worry about the team going into the regular season? Questions like that.
Oh, and the New Jersey Devils won 2-1 tonight over the Philadelphia Flyers. It's nice to beat a rival. After all, a Devils fan should hate the Flyers every day and savor victories of any sort of over them. Yet, as of right now, tonight's result - and all of the other preseason games - are now meaningless. Performances are going to be what drives the Devils to make their final decisions before opening night next Saturday. Let's talk about them more after the jump.The Stats: From NHL.com: Game Summary; Event Summary; Play by Play; Faceoff Report
What Did I Say About Discipline: One of the worst parts of tonight's performance were the penalties the Devils took. They took 5, they were largely avoidable and dumb, and one of them led to the one goal the Flyers did score.
Let's go over the five. Eric Boulton was warned on a faceoff by a ref and then on the next one, he kept yapping and got sent to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct. That's just stupid. David Clarkson forgot that you can't hook a player on the hands for even a little bit (and he did so while chasing a puck on offense - which was dumb and worth 2 for hooking. Clarkson later bumped Ilya Bryzgalov on an attack, so he got another minor on top of that. Petr Sykora was careless in raising his stick and clipped Andreas Lilja in the face. That was only a two minute penalty since there was no blood. Adam Larsson even took a call. He was behind Harrison Zolnierczyk in the Devils' end, Larsson hooked his legs and pulled, and that earned him two for tripping.
The bad news is that almost all of these could have been avoided tonight. The good news is that they're avoidable and I'm sure DeBoer will instruct his players to be more mindful in the future. Even if the Flyers didn't play Claude Giroux, Daniel Briere, and/or Chris Pronger, handing the opposition five power plays in a game is receipe for disaster.
That Goal Against Looked Familiar: On Thursday night, Giroux slid a pass right to Jaromir Jagr on the left post. He was uncovered and since Martin Brodeur was facing Giroux since he had the puck to his right, Jagr was on Brodeur's flank. It was an easy power play goal. I blamed Anton Stralman since he didn't do anything about the pass and he had no clue who was around the net despite being in the slot himself.
Tonight, almost the exact same play happened. Matt Read held the puck to Brodeur's right, Brodeur was focusing on Read as he should have, and Read saw Scott Hartnell wide open in the slot. Due to his positioning, he was Brodeur's left flank. Read slides a pass to Hartnell and he taps it in for a PPG. I blame Henrik Tallinder as he was in the slot just ahead of Hartnell instead of covering him.
Martin Brodeur Is Old And Old And Old And Makes Great Saves And Old: He's quick, he's big, he's 39. Martin Brodeur faced 26 shots and was forced to make some bail-out saves for a good chunk of them. The Devils' defense bended too much in the second period, so Brodeur had to contend with some heads-up plays, rebounds not really cleared out, and several odd-man rushes. His most spectacular reaction was diving to his left to make a stop, the puck bounced off something (a skate? a stick) and started to trickle into the corner, Brodeur just stabbed the puck away with his stick. That was the tipping point for that end of the Rock chant Marty's name. Brodeur was fine tonight and anyone worried about how he'll do this season are too focused on his birthdate and not how he played.
Defense Bending Too Much: It wasn't so much players were in the wrong position or just got torched. Some of them were just bounces that favored the Flyers. Some of them were just hustle plays where the Flyers threw players forward faster than backchecking Devils. Some of them were, well, not so good plays. Andy Greene notably kept a puck from trickling through Brodeur and helped Marty freeze it. That was good, except when you consider he made a giveaway that led to the whole play. I attributed it to the concept of bending-not-breaking; where upon a defender may give up some space but not the most valuable space to the opposition. As such, the Flyers put up 13 shots in the second period and several forced Brodeur to be great.
I will say the Devils were sharper (stiffer?) in the third period. While the Flyers still put 9 shots on net, they were more routine stops instead of two-on-one or three-on-two situations.
Adam Larsson Probably Made This Team: If he didn't, then he was stress-tested tonight. The 18-year old defender led all of the Devils in even strength (19:11) and total ice time (23:46) tonight. Given that the blueline was filled with NHL vets, I don't think Larsson would have received that much ice time unless he's on this team in some capacity.
I don't think he will (or should) get this much ice time in the regular season, though. While he was getting long shifts, he wasn't used on the PK at all. DeBoer chose to go with vets and Alexander Urbom over Larsson on penalty killing situations. Given that the Devils had 9:12 to kill tonight, Larsson only getting 32 seconds of that tells me that the coaches didn't want to put him in defensive-specific situations. That makes sense to me since he's still an 18-year old who's still adjusting to the North American game in a position that favors experience.
Penalty Killers Got Practice: With 5 power plays to kill, the PK units got a work out. They weren't bad tonight. Sure, there was the one goal allowed, but that was a failure on Tallinder instead of a breakdown in coverage. Tallinder recovered nicely from that error and was more aware of his surroundings in the slot. Philly only got 6 shots on all of their power plays, which isn't a bad rate at all to have. The Devils got several clearances and even managed to get a shot on net. Most of all, they did it while set up in a box formation - something I like to see on a shorthanded situation.
Who got the minutes? Tallinder was a mainstay, followed by Mark Fayne, Anton Volchenkov, and Alexander Urbom. Urbom earned that time tonight, and according to Tom Gulitti, made DeBoer look foolish for suggesting he won't make the team. The other surprise is who isn't in this group: Andy Greene. He didn't get any PK time. He was eating a lot of even strength minutes with Larsson, so perhaps DeBoer wanted to rest him. But that's a bit of a surprise. What was also a surprise was that Dainius Zubrus was a regular among the forwards. In his first preseason game, Zubrus got thrown into killing penalties right away. He wasn't too bad at them either. The other forwards on the PK were Zach Parise, Patrik Elias, Jacob Josefson, Brad Mills, and Adam Henrique. DeBoer rotated among the six forwards, keeping fresh guys up top to pressure the points.
If we consider tonight's game to be a dress reherseal, than these players will probably be the main penalty killers during the season. The exception would be Urbom, probably with Greene or possibly Bryce Salvador if he gets back into form. I would also figure that DeBoer plans to cycle through three forward pairings in 4-on-5 situations. I doubt it'll be this exact group of six (Mills isn't making this team at the minimum); and I'm confident Travis Zajac will be among them once healthy.
Power...Play?: Yes, the Devils had some power plays tonight. The Flyers took some dumb penalties of their own. They also earned one dangerous boarding call on Lilja. He ran Nick Palmieri late into the boards after an offside whistle during the Devils' man advantage on a Eric Wellwood minor. Fortunately, Palmieri was OK and continued to play.
Anyway, the Devils power play had their ups and downs. They looked good moving the puck around on their first power play, but failed to get the puck to the net. On their second power play, they looked about the same and were successful. Fayne fired a shot through traffic - which didn't hit a body, unlike the many other times the Devils attempted that kind of shot; Bryzgalov stops it; the puck bounces to his right; and David Clarkson was in the right place to bat it in past the goalie's right. It broke the deadlock on the scoreboard and it (mostly) redeemed his other actions tonight. Those were the good power plays.
The other two were bad. The third power play featured the Devils in their own for more time than going forward. They seemed out of sync for some reason and two Devils managed to run into each other behind their own net. I don't know why they struggled with the basics on the third one, it's not like DeBoer was fiddling with the units during the game. Lilja's hit gave them a brief 5-on-3 where they looked competent; but the resulting 1:44 was just "meh." Overall, it wasn't a bad night. While the Devils only put four shots on net, they did score one PPG, and when they did set-up, it looked good. With some more practice, this half of special teams might be more consistently threatening.
Wait, Who Got a Breakaway and Scored: The Devils pulled off three breakaways tonight. First, it was Petr Sykora, who got a lead pass from Parise, came in on Bryzgalov's right, and slid the puck in through the sliding goalie. It was a sweet goal. Ilya Kovalchuk later got an opportunity, came in on Bryzgalov's left, and Kovalchuk tried to fire it against the grain high, glove-side. He got the shot off, but the goalie stayed patient, didn't make the first move, and was able to stop it with his glove. The third was by Parise, who came in on Bryzgalov's left, but the goalie was in position and didn't have to move too much to stop Parise's shot.
I wouldn't get torn up about Parise or Kovalchuk not scoring on their breakways. They'll get more opportunities and they'll even bury a few of them. Sykora's was the real surprise. I don't know he got that far open, but he did and thankfully Parise hit him with a perfect pass through the neutral zone. Sykora himself admitted he isn't a great skater per this post by Gulitti, so that he finished on his opportunity is especially good news. Who knows if he'll get a chance like that in the future?
Does Sykora Have a Future in New Jersey?: I'm not really sure what more he could do, other than show that he can be a faster skater more often. He finished a play tonight, he's scored elsewhere in preseason, and he's done everything the coaches have asked him. I'm still not sold on whether he can really contribute much during the regular season. I think his lack of speed and his defense will undercut him. But if all of this wasn't enough to get him a contract, then I'm not sure what else would have done it. We'll find out soon.
The Kovalchuk Unit: The line of Kovalchuk-Josefson-Nick Palmieri got a real work out tonight and the results were mixed. Kovalchuk looked sharper than he did on Thursday night and he drew two of Philadelphia's four penalties tonight. Yet, in action, he had to do much of the heavy lifting on offense and didn't get off as many shots as I would have liked. At least tonight did clue us into whether Kovalchuk or Parise would be double-shifted late. It was Kovalchuk, which helped him get 23:10 of ice time tonight.
I actually liked Palmieri tonight. He threw some nice checks, he drove to the net as he's supposed to do, and he battled well for pucks. He drew the other two penalties Philly took tonight, so that's a plus for the line. Josefson had a mixed night, in my opinion. He got creamed at faceoffs (4-for-12) and wasn't always a factor on offense. Still, he did play in all situations and managed to get 2 decent shots on net tonight. I'm not really sold on this line working all that well unless there's just general improvement from all three guys. I could see this threesome getting mauled on match-ups away from the Rock and/or against a deep team. Were I to make a change, I would consider swapping Josefson and Zubrus. Given that Zubrus was out for most of preseason, we may not see it at all; but I think Zubrus' two-way game and size would help the line out in it's own end while giving Palmieri some relief in the trenches. Josefson can enjoy softer minutes as he develops in the NHL.
Zach Parise Looks Fine: He didn't score, but he was buzzing around the net like he normally did. If you were to tell me he wasn't injured, I would have believed you. The points will come, and Elias will help him get there.
Mattias Tedenby Played Tonight: Yes, he did. I'd figure I'd let you know.
Requisite Flyers Note: The Devils only putting up 20 shots on net was a let down of sorts, but then again, the Flyers put out a mostly NHL defense. Throw in Chris Pronger and it could be their blueline next Saturday. Bryzgalov was forced to make some tough saves on some of those 20 shots, but the Devils could have made a better effort to put more shots on net. I'm sure they will going forward. As for Philly's offense, a handful of forwards were the most dangerous. Read, Wayne Simmonds, Scott Hartnell, and Sean Couturier each had 4 shots on net and Jakub Voracek had 3. They broke in consistently into New Jersey's end and gave Brodeur a lot of work. Outside of Couturier, the Devils will see these guys next Saturday. Hopefully, DeBoer will show enough video as to prevent them from being so prolific at getting clean shots on net. Overall, the Flyers gave the Devils a good game even if it wasn't their full-strength roster. Flyers fans should be pleased with that.
Henrique Looked Nice: Throwing him on a PK with Brad Mills wasn't something I wanted to see, but it didn't burn the Devils so it worked. Since Henrique was centering Mills and Boulton, he didn't get a lot of ice time. Throughout preseason, he showed flashes of how good he was off the puck and in stickhandling the puck. Yet, I don't think it's to his benefit or the team's benefit to play limited minutes. I think he's better suited for another season in Albany, where he can be one of their top forwards. I will say this, if (or, gulp, when) injuries mount at forward, then I think we'll see more of Adam Henrique.
Jacques Lemaire May Appreciate This Final Point: The team was skating hard well into the third period. Say what you want about DeBoer or the team, but they're definitely in shape.
What did you think of tonight's preseason finale? Who do you think had a good night? Who do you think had a poor night? Did anyone play themselves onto the team tonight? Do you also think Larsson and Sykora will probably make this team? Were you surprised at least a little bit on the PK assignments? Did you notice anything of importance in tonight's game that I missed? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. Thank you to everyone in the Gamethread who commented and read it; and thank you for reading.