As long time readers of this site will tell you, I'm not big on adages that aren't necessarily supported by the facts. I prefer to look at the underlying numbers rather simply rely on what I've seen and remember. That said, I believe the chief cause in the New Jersey Devils' 3-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers can be boiled down to the fact that the Flyers have played a hockey game earlier this week and the Devils haven't. From the first period onward, the Flyers were sharper in their puck movement, they were swift off the puck, and they didn't panic when the other team provided pressure. On the other hand, the Devils missed a good number of their passes, the lines kept rotating to find something that would click, turnovers were rife, and there was a lot of scrambling in their own end.
A lot of Devils did not have good games tonight, and I'm not confident in saying that any of them had a definitively good game tonight. The best Devil on the ice was Martin Brodeur, and even he had a questionable moment; he probably should have had that second goal against him. Yet, if it wasn't for Brodeur's work in net, the Flyers would have slaughtered the Devils tonight as opposed to just decisively smacking them down. I'll reserve commentary on a few other players after the jump.
No Devil fan should happy with what they saw tonight. The Devils played like garbage, which in of itself isn't pleasing. The Devils got shut out, which in of itself is also not pleasing. What makes it feel worse is that A) it happened on opening night and B) it was against the Flyers, the Second Rate Rivals. On top of all that, fans are rightfully expecting a better season. This was a bad first impression in that respect. That all said, let's not get carried away. This game will not decide the season; it is only one game out of eighty-two. Bad games happen and there's way too much of the season to go to conclude that Peter DeBoer isn't the guy or the Devils are out of control or whatever. There's a lot the Devils will need to address before Monday's game against Carolina. Let's focus on that rather than lament our fate prematurely.The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play | Time On Ice Shift Charts (I haven't seen Corsi up yet from ToI, but I that may be a blessing in disguise for this game)
The Highlights: Well, these aren't really much of "highlights" of the Devils except for Brodeur making saves.
Where Was the Discipline: I said the Devils' discipline would be a factor tonight. It certainly was in all of the wrong ways. The Devils handed the Flyers a whopping eight man advantages as the team took a total of 41 PIM. The game opened with a dumb high sticking call on Petr Sykora, and the next three were also dumb obstruction-type fouls which included two from Patrik Elias of all people. From then on, the PIM count got boosted by David Clarkson taking a dumb unsportsmanlike conduct call for trying to start of a fight with someone who wouldn't; then took another in a fight that did happen (and got a game misconduct for it. Eric Boulton joined the idiot walk to the box with an interference call shortly after that minor was served and got tagged for another 10 minutes as well. Brad Mills ended it with an out-of-control hit on Jakub Voracek that must have been one of the easiest boarding calls in the careers of Ian Walsh and Dave Jackson.
The Flyers enjoyed eight man advantages worth 14:11 of game time. Technically the Devils' penalty killing units did not surrender a power play goal tonight. Philly only got 7 shots on net. That's not bad given the situation. However, just giving an opponent that much time hurts. The Devils had to primarily defense for the vast majority of 14:11, they could not attack. By gifting Philly that five of their eight opportunities in the third period, the Devils gave themselves little chance to even get a consolation goal. One more thing, the Flyers' third goal of the game was scored a mere three seconds after Elias' second minor ended. Wayne Simmonds got behind Anton Volchenkov and Bryce Salvador and just jammed the rebound from an Andrej Meszaroes' shot into the net. It was set up by their power play, though time made it an even strength goal.
Either way, no team that wants to win should have to put out their penalty killing units for close to a quarter of the entire game. Of all things going into Monday's game, I want to see better discipline. Just by not getting stupid in the third period down 3-0 would be a good first step.
It's Hard to Attack When You're Defending: While I don't have the Corsi charts from Vic Ferrari's Time on Ice, I don't think I need it to prove that the Flyers enjoyed the better run of play tonight. Even though they were winning, they continued to pile up shots on the Devils. They were superior at even strength 20-16 and more so on the power play 7-2. Even after extending their lead twice, the Flyers still out-shot the Devils 9-3 in the third period, thanks to all of the penalties the home team took. You can't really attack if you're constantly defending.
Yet, this happened quite a bit in the first period, where the Flyers out-shot the Devils 13-7. Many of those 13 shots came on sustained attacks by Philly. The sort where they get a shot on net, the rebound is knocked away, but the Flyers recover and cycle about to set it up. Martin Brodeur did a lot to bail out a Devils squad that was seemingly chasing the Flyers all around their own end. Alas, it finally bit the Devils when James van Reimsdyk found Claude Giroux wide open in the slot. When you sustain offensive possession and get the other team chasing you, that creates holes in coverage. Giroux got into the most dangerous part of the ice and was untouched because nobody stuck to him. Brodeur had no chance on the ensuing one-timer. Goal aside, the Flyers looked to be in control because, well, they really were. Their passes were on target, and they moved in sync and without rust. The Devils were not only rusty but scrambling.
I Thought About Writing This Recap Without the Letter 'O' To Make a Point But That Would Be Silly: The second period did tilt New Jersey's way in terms of shots; however most of those shots in that period came off rushes. Both teams had their fair share; though Philadelphia got them with some "assistance" from the Devils skaters.
Seriously, while some fans will harp on how the Devils only got 20 shots on net and 3 in the third, I want to focus on puck movement. A team simply not at attack their opposition consistently if they're making ill-advised passes all over the place. Ilya Kovalchuk tried to be a playmaker a few too many times tonight, especially when he should just bomb it away. His struggles showed tonight. Nick Palmieri was porous with the puck to say the least. Mattias Tedenby, Jacob Josefson, David Clarkson, and the rest of the "other guys" did little to stand out and little with the puck. While Adam Larsson was mostly on-point with the puck; the defense had some heinous giveaways. Andy Greene badly misfired on a pass to Kovalchuk that led a 3-on-2 and Matt Read's goal. Mark Fayne was picked apart at the point and made some really soft clearances that Philly nearly picked off. Even their top line of Zach Parise, Patrik Elias, and Petr Sykora struggled. Sure, they combined for 7 shots on net; but I question how good they really were. I feel bad for C.J, who counted scoring chances for this game. The Devils had a few, but given how they were playing, they were really lucky to get those few.
Part of this has to fall on the coach, Peter DeBoer. He mixed up the lines as the night went on to little effect. I sort of expected that given the youth at forward, namely Tedenby lining up with Mills and Boulton. Yet, I felt he went to double-shifting Kovalchuk too early in the game. I also felt he didn't account for some of the match-up problems either. Peter Laviolette split up Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen on separate pairings and that proved to be very effective. Though given that the whole team struggled to keep up with Philly, maybe he was doomed to fail.
Ilya Bryzgalov fully deserved his shutout, as did the Flyers. The Devils weren't going to succeed with how they were moving the puck. After discipline, this should be the second area that DeBoer and the team should address.
The "Power" Play: The Devils' first power play was actually quite good. They had possession, and they set up several shots that mostly missed (side note to those looking at the event summary: the Devils certainly missed more than 5 shots). The Flyers cleared it out and that was that for that PP. In retrospect, that would be the high point of their power play.
The Devils managed a mere 2 shots on net on their five power plays. 2 shots out of 8:24 of ice time. That's really bad. It's worse when you consider that the Flyers got 2 shorthanded shots on net. Mark Fayne got torched at the point in two separate instances; and Martin Brodeur bailed him (and the team) out on each one. Why, you may ask, did the Devils do so craptacular on the man advantage tonight? Same reason as why the offense in general sucked tonight: puck movement. Dump-ins were easily picked up by the Flyers; passes went astray to either give the Flyers' PK an easy clear or send it out of the zone themselves. I would say the Devils have to address this too, but I'd like to think that by fixing the general problems with moving the puck, the power play will benefit.
I'm Grasping at Straws for a Positive: Devils went 33-for-55 tonight as a team on faceoffs. That's a positive, I guess. Meaningless, but it's better than getting killed there, right?
Result Aside, How Did the Rookie Look: Brad Mills got some PK work, went 9-for-10 on faceoffs, and his biggest moment was running Voracek into the corner. If it wasn't for the penalty, then I'd say he was mostly OK. Adam Henrique was more or less a non-factor. He too got some PK time, but there's not much else to write home about. Though, I suspect you're wondering about Adam Larsson.
Larsson got a ton of minutes tonight. He played 21:46 tonight, the second most in terms of total minutes and he even led the team in even strength minutes at 15:14. I didn't think he was too bad. He managed three shots on net from the point, and didn't get destroyed too badly. Though, I do wonder what his Corsi value was for the night. I'm not sure how to feel about Larsson, an 18-year old defenseman, getting that much ice time in his first NHL game. I'd prefer that the veterans get some more time instead; but if he's performing, then DeBoer will give him shifts.
The NHL Return of Bryce Salvador: Bryce Salvador didn't play a game since the end of the 2008-09 campaign. Tonight was his return to the NHL regular season and it was a busy one. While he only got 11:04 at even strength, he was called upon to work a massive 9:10 on the PK. Yep, he and Larsson were the only defenders who got more than 20 minutes tonight. He looked pretty bad on the third goal against, as Simmonds got behind both him and Volchenkov. With the whole game in mind, I felt he was a bit slow - like the rest of the team. Yet, he wasn't badly out of position or poor with the puck to the point where it became noticeable. When Salvador (and the team) gets their rust off, I think he'll be OK as the season progresses.
Yeah, the Flyers Deserve Credit: I don't like giving hated rivals credit, but they played a very good game of hockey. They were in sync up and down their lineup and moved the puck quite well. They skated with a purpose and without nervousness. They kept their cool when the Devils didn't. They won the match-up game. The people of Broad Street Hockey should be pleased. Hopefully, the next Devils-Flyers game will go in a different manner.
Lastly: This is just one game. A bad game, but it's not going to mean this season will be bad. Let's wait before we start before we go crazy with comparisons to last season.
That's my general take on tonight's horrible game. What was yours, beyond that the Devils looked bad and the Flyers looked good? Who stood out (both good and bad) in your opinion? What specifically do you think the Devils need to address before Monday's game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and thank you for reading.