Preseason hockey can bring about moments and events that are uncommon, ephemeral, and yet enjoyable for those who will remember it. Tonight brought about one for a forward pretty much set for Albany, Mike Sislo. He can claim tonight as his night. More on him in a bit.
Philadelphia has not played in a preseason game in over a week and it showed in the first period tonight. The New Jersey Devils drew two penalties and racked up nine straight shots before Philly got one. They also scored a goal that was one part brilliant puck control by Marek Zidlicky and one part over-commitment by Erik Gustafsson and Ray Emery. The Devils out-shot the Flyers in the first period 11-4 and looked quite good against a nearly full-strength Flyers roster.
As it so happened, the Flyers really just needed a period to get their rust off and their legs back. In the second period, the ice was tilted in New Jersey's end. The skaters had to sell out for blocks, with several from Bryce Salvador. Two penalties, a high sticking call on Mark Fayne and a too many men on the ice call, assisted in Philly's cause in trying to tie the game up and they did what they could. Philadelphia just went into the zone whenever they'd like, the Devils were forced to dump away for changes, and so the period ended 9-3 in shots in favor of the opposition. Cory Schneider went from doing little in one period to reacting on most shifts. Salvador put his own special spin on the Flyers' search for an equalizer. Jakub Voracek was sprung for a breakaway and Salvador decided to just barrel into him from behind. He took himself and Voracek hard into Schneider and the net, giving the Flyer a penalty shot. Schneider stopped it with ease; Voracek was worse for the wear as he left the game shortly afterwards with an "upper body injury." Still, it was a stark contrast from how well the Devils looked in the second period. I suppose that will happen with six forwards that really don't belong in NJ going up against a Flyers team that had three strong lines attacking with speed on the wings.
In the third period, the Flyers tried to keep it going but they weren't as successful early on. The Devils finally got an attack going and it paid off huge thanks to Mike Sislo. Jacob Josefson worked hard to win a loose puck in the corner and get it back from Vincent Lecavalier along the side boards. Rod Pelley picked it up and tossed a lovely no-look pass to the slot to Mike Sislo. The pass initially hit Sislo's skate but he managed to kick the puck up to himself on his left. He had to stretch to get around Andrej Meszaores. He had to get down on his knees. He had to sweep the puck with his backhand to catch Emery on his right side. It was a beautiful set of motions and it ended with a puck in the back of the net. Even the Flyers commentators were impressed. Sislo hasn't been too bad in preseason and he was playing up a bit more than the other soon-to-be-AHL-bound skaters. There's not going to be a spot in the lineup for him. Yet, he provided a highlight-reel worthy goal that we just don't see too often. The game may not matter after Thursday but the memory will remain. How can it not, I mean, just look at it:
Philadelphia, now down two, pressed more and more on the attack, forcing Cory Schneider to make more and more saves. He was eventually beaten near the end of the game. After a dumb hooking call by Damien Brunner, the Flyers pulled Emery for a 6-on-4. The Flyers' power play was lackluster in that they moved the puck around well but couldn't get many clean shots on net. So they went for a cannon. Kimmo Timonen unloaded a rising hard shot from the center point, Scott Hartnell provided a screen to distract Schneider, and the puck bounced off the crossbar and in. Schneider's shutout streak ended and it gave the Flyers a goal. It turned out to be consolation as the Devils held on to win (Travis Zajac annoyingly missed an empty net). Sislo's goal turned out to be the winner. The Devils won 2-1 against a strong Philly lineup. Now it's the coaches turn to make some tough calls before the preseason finale on Thursday against the Flyers.
The Opposition Opinion: Broad Street Hockey might have something about this game. Go check them out later.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are the highlights from tonight's game. It includes the Sislo goal, which deserves another look.
You Know: I think this Devils team could look real good with a full lineup. I understand it's preseason and now's the time to play guys who otherwise wouldn't be on the roster to see what they could do. Yet, the Devils put out Cam Janssen, Tim Sestito, Rod Pelley, Mike Sislo, Stefan Matteau, and Jon Merrill tonight and last night they had Janssen, Krys Barch, Eric Gelinas, Alexander Urbom, Damon Severson, and others taking spots. Now, I liked what I saw out of Sislo, Pelley, and Merrill all things considered; but are any of these guys seriously challenging for a spot on the NHL roster? Good on the Devils to still force tight games against two full strength NHL teams, but the performance does suffer a bit. We'll likely see one on Thursday and hopefully that should get us real excited for the real thing in a week.
In Defense?: In the second and third periods, I noticed Salvador slipping into his 2013 self where he was catching up on plays and not necessarily already being in position. Zidlicky seemed to be a non-factor at times. Anton Volchenkov was caught flat footed in moments. Peter Harrold seemed out matched on a few shifts. Yet, the team held a Flyers team that was, well, flying for the better part of the last 40 minutes to a 19 shots in those two periods and 23 overall. That's not all that bad all things considered.
However, a closer look at the Event Summary shows that the Flyers got blocked 15 times and missed the net 14 times. They put more attempts not on net than those that did get on net. Part of that is a credit to the defense as some of those non-shots were a result of a defender forcing an opposing attacker to change their shot. Salvador in particular did hustle into shooting lanes and got five blocks as a result - including a painful one off a Claude Giroux shot in the second period. Part of that is just bad breaks on the Flyers as shots off the rush turned into nothing as pucks bounced away. The Flyers still kept utilizing their speed and owned much of the neutral zone. Sislo's goal did come off of one of the few good offensive shifts by the Devils beyond the first period. The D didn't translate to a lot of O. Lineup quality aside, the Devils put up only eight shots in the last forty minutes after putting up nine in the first ten minutes of the game. That ain't good even in preseason. Philly could have heavily out-shot the Devils tonight based on the second and third periods and didn't do so in part of their own failings. They probably should have. As such, I'm hesitant to praise the Devils' defensive effort tonight. And the offensive effort wasn't good beyond the first period, Sislo's goal aside.
Cory is Almost All Good: A big reason why the Devils got a result tonight was that Cory Schneider did stop nearly everything that got through to the net. The goal by Timonen was practically unstoppable as Hartnell made sure he didn't see it. If you're going to get mad about a 6-on-4 power play goal that went in off the crossbar and past a screen, then you're just mad. The only part of Schneider's performance that deserves criticism is his play with the puck. He got stripped once behind the net and he nearly gave it away a few times. Schneider nearly had a Hedberg moment. I understand he wants to play the puck like he's Martin Brodeur and it's better to try it out now than in a game that will count. It's still worrisome to watch. Practice hopefully will make for improvements in that regard. As for stopping shots, Devils should remain super with Schneider.
The Newest Official Devil: The team announced that Damien Brunner signed a two-year contract with the Devils earlier today. Tonight, he didn't have a good game. He only had two shots on net, he didn't get much going beyond the first period, and he took the exact same penalty twice: a hook to the hands of a Flyer from behind. The first on Scott Laughton didn't hurt the team much but the second on Michael Raffl did lead to Timonen's power play blast. They were both unnecessary penalties to take. He did draw an interference call from Jay Rosehill but that was a function of Jay Rosehill wanting to hit someone regardless of the rules. Also known as being Jay Rosehill.
On Zidlicky's Goal: In most team sports, giving a player a lot of space to work with isn't a smart idea in general. In hockey, teams move the puck around hoping to find space amid the opposition's defensive coverage to get an opportunity on offense. In the first period of tonight's game, we got to witness a perfect example. A good pinch in by Volchenkov led to Ryane Clowe quickly recognizing all of the free ice from the slot to the center point and made a quick pass up. Marek Zidlicky snatched it and went right to work. It would have been a good idea to shoot it right then and there but he wanted more. Gustafsson and Mark Streit were caught flat footed by the crease so he moved in. Gustafsson got on one knee to try and follow him but he didn't follow far enough. Emery came out to cut off any angle and managed to get too far out. Zidlicky had the control to stop, switch hands, and tuck the puck into the empty net. It was like rounding the goalkeeper in soccer only worse here as the goalie moves in a much smaller space. But the whole play doesn't happen if Clowe didn't recognize Zidlicky had all that space and if Zidlicky didn't use it. Great decision by Zidlicky to push ahead and even better control of the puck to put it in through a tight window at the right post. It was a great looking goal in of itself, bested only by something like Sislo's score.
This Is How I Know You're Not Making the Team: Tim Sestito played 10:26 tonight. Cam Janssen played 9:06 tonight. Stefan Matteau played 6:51. I figured Matteau was going to be sent down for further development. But he turned in a stinker tonight. So much so that Peter DeBoer, who was cycling through lines regardless of how awful the one with the goons were, cut his minutes.
The Three Stars of the Night was Off By At Least One: I don't get Tonight's Attending Media sometimes. They correctly named Schneider the first star of the game. The second star of the game was given to Zidlicky, which I suppose is defensible to a point. He did lead the Devils in shots tonight with four, scored a great goal on a powerful move down low, and nearly had another. I wasn't thrilled with his defense but whatever.
What gets me was the third: Ray Emery. I'm sorry, but Emery got beaten by two goals where better mobility would have had him in position to make a stop. I know the Flyers faithful and/or media want a goalie to praise but this wasn't the night for it. Not on a night where he only had 19 shots to face with few scoring chances. If they wanted to name a Flyer as a star, why not Timonen? He scored the lone goal for Philly, he led them in shots with four, put up seven attempts on net, and he was solid in the final two periods in his 20:46 of work. If not him, then why not Claude Giroux? He returned to the ice for the first time since his golf-related injury, put up nine attempts, got two on net, drove the Flyers forward repeatedly in the second and third periods, dominated at the dot by going 9-for-11, and set up Timonen for his goal. I'd say he or Timonen were the best Flyers tonight.
Thank You MSG+: They decided to air the CSN feed for tonight's game so it was available in the north and central New Jersey areas. I won't miss hearing Coates jumping into commentary by Jim Jackson and Keith Jones, though. He makes Chico seem like David Aldridge.
Your Take: It's your turn. Share your thoughts on tonight's game. Which goal did you like more: Zidlicky's or Sislo's? Did anyone have an impressive night in your nights? Did anyone make their case for or against making this team? Will we see a full strength lineup on Thursday, please? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.