Knowing that the New Jersey Devils are not going to make the playoffs before the last weekend of the season has been a weird feeling as a fan. As such, one would not know what to expect from the Devils or how to react if (or when) if they lost tonight. Sure, the Philadelphia Flyers are a hated rival. It would not be good to lose to them under any circumstances. But they are also first in the Eastern Conference and have scored lots of goals. The Devils are in the lower half and have struggled to score goals all season. Would it be worth getting that worked up over if the Flyers just outclass them or edge a win at the Rock, knowing the Devils are going to stop playing hockey this season after April 10?
Fortunately, those questions would not be answered. They put in a respectable effort tonight. The Devils came from an early 1-0 deficit in the first period to take a 2-1 lead after two. They responded to an equalizing goal by re-taking the lead and adding to it to win 4-2. Yes, these New Jersey Devils scored four goals in a game - all against Brian Boucher. As a team, they were pretty good; and they owe the win nearly all of it to one man: Patrik Elias.
He's going to get his own section beyond the jump, but Elias was fantastic tonight. Three of those four goals came from #26. The legendary forward made things happen when he was on the ice and finished off three rushes up ice tonight. The first to initially tie up the game; the second to take the first lead for New Jersey while shorthanded; and the third to give the Devils insurance and to make it rain hats.
Unsurprisingly, this was the first hat trick by a Devil this season. As Tom Gulitti noted in this post-game post at Fire & Ice, it's the first one at the Rock since November 30, 2007. And what better time to achieve it than at the hands of a hated rival? While the win may not mean all that much in the standings, I have to say, beating the Flyers always feel great. The thousands at the Rock made that clear with their voices, applause, and their hats. Thank you, Elias; and thank you, Devils.
I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For a Flyers-based perspective, please check out Ben Rothenberg's recap at Broad Street Hockey where in he laments skates.
The Game Highlights: Here's the video of tonight's game from NHL.com, complete with three goals by Patrik Elias.
Rush, Rush, Rush: The game as a whole was a wide open. Each team only took one minor, there were less than 10 offside calls total, only three icings, and both teams seemed content to skate it out. If the Devils or Flyers set up a trap, then it didn't work all that well. Both teams were able to get into the offensive zone with speed regularly. I can understand the Devils not doing it, since the Flyers have so much depth at forward in terms of talent, production, speed, and physical play. Why the Flyers didn't try it since the Devils don't have said depth and they played last night, I couldn't tell you. I guess because they kept putting rubber on Johan Hedberg they didn't feel a change was warranted?
As the 36-24 shot total in favor of Philly would suggest, the Flyers enjoyed more of these 3-on-2, 2-on-2, etc. rushes up ice and put shots on Johan Hedberg in the process. Yet, the Devils got more of the breaks and scored all four of their goals on them. Some times you get the good breaks off of them (the third and fourth goals), and some times you just beat the goaltender dead to rights with a shot (the first and second goals). On another night, perhaps the Flyers make the Devils pay. But tonight, fortune favored New Jersey.
The Patrik Elias Show, With Special Guest Brian Rolston: As noted in the headline and prior to the jump, Elias was fantastic tonight. He scored a hat trick, the first for New Jersey in over a year and the first at the Rock in over three years. He coolly beat Brian Boucher low on a one-timer for the first one from distance. The first one was nice, and the second one was even better. Elias' made Boucher stretch and put it over the downed goaltender - shorthanded. Yes, the Devils got a 2-on-1 (and the 1 was James van Reimsdyk) and Elias finished it perfectly to take a 2-1 lead. The third goal wasn't as pretty as he just crashed the net and put a shallow rebound past the fallen Boucher. Hats came down, the masses were happy, and the Flyer fans who came to Newark to give Jeff Vanderbeek more money (thanks!) started to head for the exits.
As great as his goals were, it wouldn't have been possible without Brian Rolston. Rolston set up each and every one of Elias' goals tonight. Rolston got the lead pass up ice and dished it to Elias for his one-timer. Rolston rushed up ice on the PK, heard everyone from his teammates on the bench to the arena to shoot and rightly decided to pass it to Elias for his second. Rolston took it out of his own zone, made a pass to Dainius Zubrus, got it back on the other side and fired a shot hard enough such that Elias would have a chance at it. Rolston was great and that shouldn't be lost among the deserved praise for Elias' game.
Possession says quite a bit. Rolston finished at +10 Corsi and Elias was at +9. They both played mostly with Zubrus was a +5; though, the two had a few shifts in the third period with Mattias Tedenby, who finished at +4 incidentally. Regardless of the combination, they made their presence felt on the ice at evens. The usual line with Zubrus combined for 8 of New Jersey's 24 shots on net. They were usually matched up with the line of Honorless Captain Mike Richards, James van Reimsdyk, and Kris Versteeg. Clearly, the Devils got the better of those three.
Overall, I have to say I'm real impressed how Rolston has not crashed back to his first half performances. He's been putting in good work along side Elias. Tonight was another example of that. Just as it was another example that Elias has been the top forward on New Jersey this season. The only downside to Elias night: 4-for-15 on faceoffs. But it's OK. He scored three goals tonight.
I Hate to Sound Ungrateful for the GWG, But...: Ilya Kovalchuk cut to the middle on a rush in the third period and fired a low shot to his right. Nick Palmieri was at the post and re-directed it in, seemingly off his toe. The re-direction was legal and it was New Jersey's third goal of the game. It was the eventual game winner and that was good.
Yet, the line of Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, and Palmieri had a bad night. They got pinned back repeatedly by the Flyers. All three of them finished at -15 in Corsi. They were out-shot that much and forced to play defense that much. Kovalchuk just didn't have any good luck as he finished with one shot on net, three misses, and a puck bouncing over/away from his stick a couple of times tonight. Palmieri did get 3 shots on net, though one of them was just for the goal. His puck movement and control wasn't always on point. As for Zajac, I don't even know. He was just off all night. Off going forward, one . Off on defense. Off at draws by going 2-for-12 at the dot.
Strangely, Jacques Lemaire kept this line matched up with the Flyers' unit of Nikolai Zherdev, Jeff Carter, and Claude Giroux. Those three Flyers steamrolled the Zajac line all night long. They combined for 14 (5 for Zherdev and Carter, 4 for Giroux) of Philadelphia's 36 shots on net. They got a third period equalizer after extended possession in New Jersey's end. If it wasn't for Hedberg and some fortunate bounces in New Jersey's favor, then this line alone would have ruined the Devils' night. Thankfully, they didn't.
Oh, Salmela: What really didn't help the Zajac line - and helped the Giroux line - was that they were often out there at evens with Andy Greene and Anssi Salmela. Greene wasn't so bad as his -11 Corsi might suggest. Salmela looked far worse. He was unsure with the puck, some of his clearing attempts were weak, and his positioning was off more than a few times. Moreover, Lemaire gave Greene 23 minutes tonight while Salmela only got 18:54; he must have had similar feelings about Salemla's night.
In witnessing the two goals by Philadelphia live and watching video of those goals just now, I kept wondering what #29 was doing. He got torched by James van Reimsdyk, who re-directed a Richards pass past Hedberg for the game's first goal. He was slow in reaction to Jeff Carter entering the slot, who beat Hedberg with a one-timer off a Zherdev pass. After the game, Lemaire specifically mentioned that he didn't play well tonight per this tweet from Tom Gulitti. I can't disagree with the coach. It's not at all a good night when the coach points you out in the post-game press conference on top of at least looking out of place on the two goals against.
Possession Overall: The Flyers out-shot the Devils 36-24 and 35-23 at even strength. That's not good. However, if you look a little closer, the game wasn't as disparate as the shots would imply. The Flyers only had six more shooting attempts overall, 48-42. In Corsi, the Devils were only a -3, which is pretty good given how the Flyers opened the third period and the Devils were winning for a plurality of the game. The Flyers certainly brought the house late, trying to get a lifeline on the scoreboard; so it's understandable that they'd do more with possession. The shot count would have looked more even if the Devils didn't miss so many shots (14). Nevertheless, a -3 in team Corsi isn't too bad.
Unremarkable Power Plays: With only one power play for each team, neither really got going at 5-on-4. The Devils didn't get a shot on net (Kovalchuk missed once, Rolston got blocked once), though they had some good possession. The Flyers got one shot on their power play, but they looked out of sorts for all but the last 10 seconds of their PP. The Devils got clearances and Brian Rolston led a 2-on-1 that Elias finished off for his second of the night. Just by virtue of not allowing a goal against, I guess the Devils' shotless PP was better tonight. But really, the PK units for both sides were superior (not a surprise for the Devils this season).
Return of the Moose: Johan Hedberg came into this game cold and up against a team that has been excellent in putting pucks in the net. At the risk of hyperbole, the Moose played as if he was still coming off his hot streak in February. Hedberg made short stops, stops through screens, stops off rebounds and second chances, and generally kept New Jersey in play. He only seemed to struggle with playing the puck outside of the crease, but fortunately that didn't come to haunt him too much. With 34 saves, including 12 in a third period where the Flyers brought the house, Hedberg was a big reason why the Devils won this game. His performance was a very pleasant surprise since he hasn't played in over a month.
Return of the Zhark: Vladimir Zharkov returned to the lineup and played with Adam Mair and David Steckel. He did OK. Just 9:32 of hard work but little by way of offense. Yet, he helped make sure the fourth line would not play their 10ish minutes of ice time around the Moose.
The fourth line looked good for a change. I don't know if it was his return or whether they just found early success in their match-up and rolled on or even if the stars were just aligned the right way this evening. Whatever the reason, the fourth line had a good game. OK, they didn't score and they combined for one shot on net. Though, with these three forwards, one can't expect much by way of lamplighting. The Corsi doesn't lie, though. They kept the puck going in the right direction. Zharkov and Mair were each a +2, and Steckel was a +4 (and went 6-for-7 on draws). For that alone, I have to say they did rather well; especially since they saw Danny Briere, Ville Leino, and Scott Hartnell the most tonight. Having them play more defense than they'd like helped. The next step for them is to get some shots, since Mair was the only one officially credited for a shot on goal. Literally, one shot on goal.
Return of the A-Train: Anton Volchenkov returned tonight after missing the last two games due to injury. He wasn't bad. Volchenkov didn't play a lot as Lemaire limited his minutes to only 14:48 and 18 shifts. That makes sense since it's his first game in a week. He got paired mostly with Jay Leach; the two finished -3 and -4, respectively in Corsi. I'm sure he'll get more time tomorrow night as he gets back into form.
Question for You: After Elias' third goal, Kris Versteeg got a game misconduct. After . Why did both of them get misconducts? It wasn't clear to me from watching the game. I guess they used some words they shouldn't have used when talking to the referee, but I don't really know if that's true or not. Does anyone know? If so, share the answer in the comments.
Check out Broad Street Hockey Later for Chances: Todd the Fox (who I suspect really isn't a fox) is now tracking scoring chances for Flyers games. I'd be interested to see how the Devils did; though, I would think the Flyers had
A Brief Message to Penguins Fans: You're welcome.
Hotter Than the Night: On a cold evening in Newark, the crowd was considerably more amped tonight than it was on Wednesday night. It makes sense to me, the Devils-Flyers rivalry is a hotter one than the Devils-Isles rivarly. There wasn't an insignificant amount of Flyers fans and like most visiting fans, they made their presence heard. Especially in the first period, where the Flyers led 1-0 on the score and 14-8 in shots.
However, the Devils fans weren't sitting on their hands tonight - they chattered in the first and they only made more noise as the game went on. This coincided with the Devils' goals. More "MOOOOOOOSE" calls. More chants of "Let's go Devils." The apex was Elias scoring his third goal. Who would have thought there would be a hat trick by New Jersey in the midst of one of the least productive seasons ever? Who would have thought it would come against a rival? Who would have thought the Flyers would be leaving this game early?
Again, it's not going to mean much in the standings. While not mathematically eliminated yet, the playoffs aren't happening. I think most of you know that and have accepted it. Still, a 4-2 win over the Second Rate Rivals? Feels great, man.
That's my take on tonight's game. Who impressed you the most tonight? Who did you think was the worst? What was your opinion of how tonight's game went? Do you think the Devils will carry this performance on to Montreal tomorrow night? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Incidentally, the Montreal-Devils preview should be up at about noon tomorrow. Thanks to all those who commented in the Gamethreads and thank you for reading.