The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2; Radio - 660 AM WFAN
The Game: The New Jersey Devils (40-24-5) at the Philadelphia Flyers (39-22-7)
The Last Devils-Flyers Game: The Devils and Flyers each took their winning streaks and put them on the line in a game at the Rock on Sunday night. The start of the game was even but as the first period rolled on, the Devils just got stronger and stronger. Their neutral zone play got tighter, their forecheck caused more problems, and their board play just dominated the Flyers' weakened defense. Eventually, the Devils would get rewarded with a power play that saw Patrik Elias score on a give-and-go play with David Clarkson just before the end of the first. The second period was more even and didn't feature the Flyers beating on NJ for 20 minutes. Claude Giroux would tie it up 16 seconds into the third period, but that goal would be the last dangerous chance by the Flyers for the evening. The rest of the game was all Devils hockey. They out-shot the Flyers, out-attempted Philly, drew multiple penalties, and got three goals from Anton Volchenkov, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Zach Parise to secure home a big 4-1 win at home. My recap of the victory is here; while Travis Hughes had a shorter recap at Broad Street Hockey.
The Goal: Keep up the good work by continuing the aggression against the Flyers. I emphasized the board play and the forecheck in Sunday's win over the Philadelphia Flyers. The third line in particular wrecked their match-ups in the corners and the other three lines were able to keep possession going down low. The Devils committed to the forecheck and were rewarded with broken up breakout passes, giveaways into the neutral zone, and even a few steals. The Devils kept this up even when they were up 3-1 and 4-1 in the third period because they knew the Flyers had no answer for either. While the forecheck did benefit from some good luck; the Devils' strength along the boards is, I think, repeatable. Therefore, the Devils would be wise to stay aggressive and keep pounding them there. After all, the best way to keep an offensively talented team like Philadelphia at bay is to keep the puck away from them and in their end as much as possible.
If you would link an opposition's take on tonight's game for some reason, please visit Broad Street Hockey. For more of my observations and thoughts on this game, please continue on after the jump.
A secondary goal for the Devils will be to keep the Flyers' top line as quiet as possible. The Devils sort-of did a good job at this on Sunday. Claude Giroux, Jaromir Jagr, and Scott Hartnell were beaten overall in possession. Jagr was mostly kept quiet, Hartnell's main contribution was selling a shove by Bryce Salvador, and Giroux seemed to disappear for stretches in Sunday's game. However, one missed coverage by Elias and Jagr was able to set up Giroux right in front of the net for a goal. It just goes to show that defending their power line requires the Devils out there against them to give 100%. One lapse or one mistake can definitely result in a goal against. While they did nothing much outside of the one goal they scored, they are still the biggest threats on a Philadelphia team that still leads the league in goals per game with 3.19. According to Behind the Net, those three drive the play forward better than their other lines as Jagr, Hartnell, and Giroux are first, third, and fourth respectively on the team in on-ice Corsi. The Devils need to watch out for them every time they are on the ice.
They'll also need to watch out for the rest of the Flyers. While their defense remains weakened without Kimmo Timonen and Andrej Meszaroes, their forwards are still very threatening as Wayne Simmonds (22), Matt Read (19), Maxime Talbot (18), Danny Briere (13, though he's been snakebit he's still got game), and Sean Couturier (11) can all definitely help out the Giroux line in scoring. They all can all help out in just shooting as every one of those players has at least 100 shots on goal this season. Mind you, this group has gone without Jakub Voracek and James van Riemsdyk as both players are injured. Philadelphia can still certainly light up a team if they are given the chances.
The Flyers have been quite good at getting those chances. The team as a whole is fourth in shots per game with 32.5; and fifth in 5-on-5 SF/60 at 31.6 per Behind the Net. Philadelphia has also been a solid possession team in close score situations with a 51.68 Fenwick% according to Behind the Net. Strangely, they're below 50% when the score is tied; but they're quite good when they're leading or down by one or two goals. The point remains: the Flyers have been firing away at evens and they've been suitably rewarded. With these numbers in mind, the fact that the Devils held this team to less than 20 and out-attempted them by +15 in Corsi on Sunday really emphasizes who was the better team.
So does the Devils' penalty killing performance as the Flyers have been relatively successful on the power play this season. They have the league's fourth highest conversion rate at 20%. They have received the most power play opportunities in the league with 280, 15 more than the second highest team, Columbus. They've also scored more power play goals than everyone else with 56. The Flyers aren't just riding percentages either. They have the seventh highest SF/60 in the league in 5-on-4 situations at 52.1. Hartnell leads the league in power play goals with 15; and Giroux leads in power play points with 34. The deeper I look at the Flyers' offense, the more impressed I am with the Devils keeping them to 19 shots total, 2 power play shots with no conversions, and a general malaise from their attack. They really did a great job in possession and on defense, one lapse aside.
The Flyers will definitely have two changes which will make it difficult for the Devils to repeat that Sunday performance. The first is rest. The Flyers won't be playing this game coming off a road game in Toronto on a night that lost an hour of sleep. Expect to see Philly skate with more vim and vigor tonight. The second is goaltending. Sergei Bobrovsky definitely didn't cause the Flyers to fall apart on Sunday. However, he's not Ilya Bryzgalov, who has had three shutouts in his last five starts and two of them in his last two appearances. He's the hottest goaltender in the league right now. Just getting one puck past him will be a serious challenge in of itself. Throw in a fresher Flyers team looking for some revenge on their home ice and it's going to be a real feat if the Devils come out of Philly with their fifth straight win.
The good news is that I think the Devils have a gameplan ready for the Flyers. While Bryzgalov has been hot, he's not going to be getting killed along the boards for possession. As with Anders Nilsson, if the Devils can keep pounding shots on net, then they may eventually get rewarded. One of the Devils' biggest weak-points this season has been that they are just not that effective at generating shots on net.
Their SF/60 in 5-on-5 play is just above Minnesota at 26.0 per Behind the Net; and their overall SOG per game rate is only 27.3, which ranks 27th in the NHL before Monday's games. That said, the Devils have taken more initiative in their last two games as they've put up 35 and 31 against the Isles and Flyers, respectively. While I don't expect the Devils to transform into a high shooting team this season, it's something I'd like to see the Devils try and continue in the short term.
Speaking of short term successes, how about that power play? They've converted on four of them including a game winner against the Isles in their last three games, and they've been getting set up on most of the twelve opportunities they've received in those same three games. Marek Zidlicky has really fit in well as the new defenseman on the unit. He has contributed three out of the four power play goals the team has scored in their last three games, assisting on two and scoring one himself. He looks more than comfortable alongside Ilya Kovalchuk at the point, he's made good passes with Kovalchuk and Elias down low, and he's starting to shoot more. Throw in the fact that he can play regular minutes and he's making that trade with the Wild look like a steal for the Devils. Dare I suggest they have a serious five man unit given that everyone on the first unit now has a set role? Let's hope the PP success continues as the Flyers have been notorious for taking penalties - justified by leading the league in times shorthanded with 272.
Let's also hope Adam Larsson has a better game. He got benched during the second period and so Zidlicky, Anton Volchenkov, and Bryce Salvador ate up his minutes to much success. Larsson has had some struggles in his own end so perhaps the decision to sit him after 10 minutes will be a wakeup call of sorts. It's been with his positioning and his reactions to play. Other teams have been able to go wide on him and beat him inside. He's a rookie and so experience will help him learn how much sooner he needs to react and/or how wide he needs to be so he doesn't get turned as often as he does. We shall see if he turns his own game around tonight as a full six-man blueline playing well would be a bigger help even if the Devils got by with five playing well thanks to the offensive pressure the Devils put up. He'll get his chance tonight, based on this Monday post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice.
Lastly, it's tempting just to say that all Devils fans should watch and enjoy Ilya Kovalchuk. Kovalchuk was named the second star of this past week by the NHL with 5 goals and 4 assists in his last 4 games. He's just making good things happen on the ice. However, he's usually doing that. Instead, I want you to look for the support. What was impressive about Sunday's win was that Kovalchuk and Parise didn't have to carry the offense on their backs and take a majority of shots and shooting attempts. Elias, Clarkson, and the rest all chipped in those regards. With only three Devils not getting a SOG on Sunday, the attack was balanced and helped throw off the Flyers further. I want to see this again - along with Kovalchuk continuing his torrid pace of production.
That's my take on tonight's game. Now I want to know yours. Do you think the Devils will stick to the same gameplan against Philadelphia tonight? Will it be as effective? Can the Devils snap Bryzgalov's shutout streak? What will Kovalchuk do next? Overall, do you think the Devils have a chance at getting a second straight win over the Flyers? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.