Martin Brodeur had a very good game against the New York Islanders in the season opener on Saturday. In tonight's home opener against the Second Rate Rivals, he was even better. He needed to be right away. The New Jersey Devils got an early goal, literally chased the game in their end of the rink for most of the next 18 minutes, and then got a good bounce late to make it 2-0. In between, Martin Brodeur was the reason why the Philadelphia Flyers failed to equalize on any of their nine shots on net and many more attempts. Brodeur was the controller, ensuring most of the rebounds from Flyers' shots sailed away from danger. Brodeur was denier of Scott Hartnell on not just one, not two, but three pretty good shots. Brodeur was resolute as the skaters in front of him struggled mightily at times to get stops and to do more than dump-and-change outside of their own zone. The Devils were the second best team on the ice for a majority of the first period; enough to question whether they were really any match for the Flyers. Brodeur was the answer. Even when Brodeur made a poor clearance, he bailed himself out with a nifty glove save. That's the level of performance he was at this evening.
In other words, the Devils were pretty awful in the first period and Brodeur succeeded at keeping his team ahead. Your only other positives were Travis Zajac stopping a Bryce Salvador shot right in front of Ilya Bryzgalov and curling around the keeper for an easy score and David Clarkson's wraparound attempt going off Ruslan Fedotenko's skate and into the net on the Devils' first power play. It was Flyers hockey all in between, but they could not crack Brodeur.
As time went on, the Devils remained, well, pretty sloppy. Many passes went astray and their own defensive coverage was spotty. However, Brodeur remained solid as a diamond and the Flyers' own performance faded. In retrospect, they were really getting frustrated and not handling it well. The Devils took two penalties in the first half of the second period. The Flyers not only did not score - obviously - but they gave up a penalty shot that Ilya Kovalchuk converted and shortly thereafter handed Patrik Elias a shorthanded one-on-one with Bryzgalov. About halfway through the second, the Flyers began their parade to the penalty box after physics forced David Clarkson to hit a Flyer just after the puck went out of play. The ensuing beef resulted in matching minors for four players; but it set the tone for that special kind of Philadelphia discipline. Wayne Simmonds struck Martin Brodeur after a whistle, he paid a price, and he ended up taking three minors for it. After that, the Flyers bench got tagged for abuse of officials (read: someone said some nasty words to the ref, possibly about his mom too). Not that the Devils did a lot with the power plays the Flyers were suddenly handing them, but it allowed them to get more offense and force the Flyers back. Suddenly, the Devils weren't heavily outshot, Brodeur didn't have to stand on his head for minutes at a time, and the game seemed more even. The 3-0 lead helped.
The Flyers' frustration just boiled over in the third period, the Devils weren't exactly angels either, and referees Brad Watson and Jean Hebert got to raise their arms many more times. The Flyers of the first period were nowhere to be seen, as they whiffed on more passes, mistimed more of their zone entries, and not getting as much sustained pressure on offense. The Flyers team that just picked apart the bottom six and then some struggled to get to seven shots. The Flyers team that looked fresh and forced the Devils to take calls were getting sent to the box more and more from a second abuse of officials call - by Claude Giroux no less! - to slashing to a double minor instead of a fighting major to two fighting majors, Niklas Grossman even got a clearance over the glass minor to complete the cycle I just made up in my head for penalties. Again, the Devils didn't do much with the power plays and Marek Zidlicky notably undercut what would have been a 1:53 long 5-on-3, but it wasn't so necessary to convert in retrospect. The Devils were able to get some offense in spite of their poor puck movement, enough to keep the Flyers more than honest and that was enough. They weren't able to get that fourth goal, but they didn't need to given the tired, unhappy opponent.
It's not so much that the Devils got better as the game went on, but it felt like the Flyers just got worse. Don't misunderstand me. Beating and infuriating the Second Rate Rivals 3-0 is great. Brodeur was spectacular. Kovalchuk's penalty shot was so sick I think a scientist may have to develop a shot for it. I'm just saying there's quite a bit that the Devils need to work on for future games. Underneath the score and moments, there's plenty of room for improvement.
The Opposition View: Travis Hughes is understandably not happy about the Flyers' loss in his recap at Broad Street Hockey.
The Game Highlights: Zajac's early goal! Brodeur! Brodeur! Brodeur! More Brodeur! Clarkson's goal! Kovalchuk's penalty shot! More Brodeur! Some other saves! That's my summation of the NHL.com highlight video, now go and watch it:
Brodeur Was Spectactular: I just felt like writing that again because it's true. He earned his 120th career shutout and his tenth over the Flyers.
Penaltyfest: 29 penalties were called in this game. 29! 15 penalties and 36 PIM for the Flyers, 14 penalties and 34 PIM for the Devils, six power plays for the Flyers, and seven for the Devils. All of the Flyers' were single man advantages, while the Devils had two five-on-three situations (one very short lived) and a four-on-three among their seven. Again, Brad Watson and Jean Hebert did what they could to keep both teams in check but they really didn't. The Flyers were already mad about losing their first two games and losing by a significant margin despite playing very well for the first half of the game, so they went off. The Devils are playing a hated rival in their home building so they weren't going to take any disrespect lightly. The infractions led to beefs, the beefs led to scuffles, and the fights came at the end. This game took much longer than it should have due to all of the calls and they were mostly necessary. There were a few cheap, make-up like calls for both sides; but for the most part, each team earned their PIMs.
Woe, the Defense: The Devils only allowed 24 shots on net tonight, which is usually a sign of good play by the defense. However, I don't feel comfortable praising the defense based on their performance (aside: I will say Bryce Salvador did quite a lot right from my viewpoint), especially given what we saw in the first period and in parts of the second. There were way too many open Flyers in the offensive zone. Too often, the play would end up behind the goal line and there would be Flyers open around the crease, at the dots, and/or the slot. They weren't always aware of rebounds and therefore needed the Flyers to either miss them or another Devil to get in the way first. Even if they managed to keep a player like, say, Giroux to the outside, the cross-ice pass to a teammate was available. In defense to the defense, certain forward lines were beaten up more often than others. Thankfully, the Flyers' own execution wasn't very sharp and Brodeur was excellent so it didn't lead to any goals.
Penaltyfest Aside: How often do you see two abuse of officials calls in the same game? Seriously, one from the bench and one from the captain, who had an awful game? Somebody call Deion Sanders, there's an organization that needs to be hit with a #HOP.
Oh, Zidlicky: As far as I know, Time On Ice's game scripts aren't available just yet for this season. I'd really love to know who really ate it in possession on defense. Perhaps it would show that someone else had a difficult time out there like Marek Zidlicky. While I can't point out to who he matched up against, he was prone to turnovers in all three zones, his passes were particularly weak at times, and he took three penalties. The third one, the interference call that turned a 1:53 long 5-on-3 into a 4-on-3, was pretty weak but I don't think there's ever a reason for a defenseman to drop into the slot and body up on a guy away from the play in a two man advantage. The other two stick fouls (a high-stick and a slash) were just poor calls to take, especially since the Flyers were playing rather well at the time. I doubt he's suddenly going to see the bench for Adam Larsson, but he needs to have better nights.
So, What Is It That You Do Here, Exactly?: Cam Janssen is not a good hockey player. He can fight and that's really it. Yet, in a game that featured three quasi-fights and two actual fights, he was on the bench. I know why he was on the bench. Midway through the first period, he was caught out there against the Giroux line as the Flyers teed up the shooting attempts and he couldn't get the puck out of the zone. And I do mean Janssen, he got pieces of the clearance that the Flyers otherwise kept in. His only other action was two token shifts in the next two periods. I fully understand benching him at that point, but if he's not going to be the "enforcer" up 3-0 in the third, then why even keep him?
The Other Benched One: Mattias Tedenby had a good game against the Islanders. Tonight, he did very little with his 7:10 of ice time. He got no shots, he took no attempts, and he took a lazy tripping penalty that effectively ended his night. Let me put it this way: Peter DeBoer was more comfortable rolling with ten forwards for half the game against a hated rival than playing Tedenby. For a guy who really needs to play well to stick in this league, this was not the way to build on a good performance.
The Fourths as Thirds were Second to Their Opposition: I'm still trying to figure out how DeBoer thought starting Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter, and Steve Bernier against the Giroux line would work. OK, it wasn't an immediate disaster, but 11, 20, and 18 got caught in their own end more than a few times tonight. Even in the third period when the Flyers were at their worst, those three were pinned for a couple of shifts. The defense had enough issues tonight, but they just exacerbated it at times, playing off of Flyers enough so they couldn't challenge them and yet unable to cut off passes and pinches. Again, thanks to Brodeur and the Flyers' execution, it didn't end badly. Eventually, I fear they're going to get torched. I won't be surprised since they are a fourth line being asked to do more than that. If anything, it just further highlights how the Devils need to get help at forward sooner rather than later.
Power Play Slight Improvement: I was underwhelmed at times and near-livid at the near-catastrophe that started their first 5-on-3. However, they did get eight shots on goal over their seven opportunities and a goal, albeit a fortunate one. They were able to set up a few more times. This is improvement of sorts. However, it's clear the units need more time and perhaps some adjustments to really get it going.
Powerkill: I realize I've been rather negative so far. I will say there were other positives out of the game other than seeing the Devils shutout their second-most hated rival. The first would have to be the play of the PK. They only allowed five power play shots from the Flyers, they were able to get most of their clearing attempts out of the zone, and they generated two scoring opportunities out of their four shots on net. One of which led to a penalty shot that Kovalchuk gloriously converted. That's a great night for the penalty kill, something like we saw last season.
Some Standout Forwards: There were four standout Devil forwards from my vantage point. The first was Travis Zajac. He was the big shooter tonight with five shots on net, he scored the game's first goal, he played a solid 20:05 with at least three minutes on each special team, and he even won over half of his faceoffs. Zajac had a very good night by any definition of the term good.
I liked how Kovalchuk played. He wasn't selfish like some fans wished he was after the Islanders game. In fact, he didn't even register an even strength shot on net. He only had one power play shot on net and his penalty shot. That I'm not a fan of. I was a fan of how he drew two penalties, he played corner-to-corner, he set up Clarkson's wraparound goal, he really helped Zajac get to five shots, he tripped Scott Laughton that I think prevented a scoring chance (I can defend those fouls), and he posterized Bryzgalov - who otherwise had a good game - on that penalty shot he scored on. I would like to see more from Kovalchuk in the future, but I'm fine with what he did tonight.
Stefan Matteau was a surprise. In a physical game against a rival, he didn't shirk too much from the physical stuff. I wasn't a fan of the roughing call he got. I was pleased to see that DeBoer gave more minutes to Matteau. He played 10:37 tonight and put up three shots on net. Granted, benching Tedenby probably had something to do with it, but coaches don't put players out there unless they think they can contribute. I still think Matteau needs to go back to the Q, but I'm understanding more and more why they have kept him after camp.
Lastly, I liked how Jacob Josefson performed. Again, like Matteau, he got more minutes due in part to other personnel decisions by DeBoer, but he played much more. Josefson got 16:26 of ice time, played an impressive 4:03 on the PK, and looked quite well on the wing with Patrik Elias and Clarkson. On top of that, he got three shots on net out of five attempts and made some important defensive interventions. How he played tonight could be seen as a sign of things to come, provided he remains injury-free. I think we'll rather like it. That said, he could be much better on faceoffs since he went 3-for-12.
A Final Reminder: Brodeur was amazing tonight. Knowing he has 120 shutouts, Brodeur is amazing.
I want to know about your take about tonight's game. What did you make of the Devils performance? What do you think they need to work on the most: puck movement, defensive coverage, or the power play? Would you agree that the Flyers just got more and more frustrated and it guaranteed their loss? Other than Brodeur, who do you think played well for both sides? How great is it that Brodeur has started off great? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. I'd like to thank you all for your patience for this recap being later than usual as well as those who followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter, those who commented and followed along in the Gamethread, and those of you who read this recap.