The Second Rate Rivals have been hot and now they come to the Rock.
The Time: 7:30 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - NBC Sports Network; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (17-18-8) vs. the Philadelphia Flyers (21-17-4; SBN Blog: Broad Street Hockey)
The Last Devils Game: On Saturday, the Devils went into Buffalo looking for a result. They came away with taking five penalties, conceding two power plays goals, putting most of their shooting attempts not on Ryan Miller instead of on Ryan Miller, scoring only one goal, and losing 2-1. It was an undisciplined game by the team, as I explained in my recap.
The Last Flyers Game: As the Devils struggled with the Sabres, the Flyers had a more momentous night in Phoenix. It would be the last of their Western Conference games on this road trip and it looked like a loss was looming. After a scoreless first period, Phoenix made a statement with two quick goals from Rob Klinkhammer and Lauri Korpikoski. But Scott Hartnell responded shortly after to make it 2-1. Mikkel Boedeker made it 3-1 before halfway through the second. However, the Flyers would not quit. They cut the deficit to one before the second ended with a late goal from Brayden Schenn. In the third period, Wayne Simmonds provided the equalizer on a power play goal. The difference maker came from Jakub Voracek past halfway through the third. He stripped Keith Yandle and buried the puck. The Coyotes didn't answer any of these and Claude Giroux sealed the comeback with an empty netter. The Flyers won 5-3. Allison J. at Broad Street Hockey was one of the happy Philadelphians on Saturday night as indicated by her recap.
The Last Devils-Flyers Game: Way back on November 7, the Devils visited the Flyers. This was only days after the two played a game that argued against hockey being entertaining whatsoever. This game went far better, particularly for the Devils. Adam Henrique re-directed a shot by Eric Gelinas early in the game for the 1-0 lead. The Flyers responded with, well, not much, really. The Devils enjoyed the advantage in shots and possession and would be rewarded in one of the weirder sights this season. Early in the third, Adam Larsson fired a shot towards the net. It went into the net because - and I'm not making this up - Cam Janssen re-directed the shot. Janssen scored, the Devils had plenty of breathing room, and Jaromir Jagr took a gift from Andrej Meszaroes for an empty netter. Martin Brodeur got his 122nd career shutout and the Devils won 3-0. My recap of the game is here. Not sure where it is for Broad Street Hockey. I'll assume they were so stunned that Janssen scored a goal that they didn't write one.
The Goal: Flex possession muscle, not actual muscle. While Philadelphia has played far better recently than they did back in November, they're still a sub-par possession team. In terms of 5-on-5 Fenwick in close-score situations, they're only just ahead of Washington according to Extra Skater. In terms of even strength Corsi percentage, they're just over 50% and still below league median. If you look to where the Devils are in both links, then you'll find they are one of the best in the East. It's clear they have an advantage. This needs to be utilized to the fullest. While the Flyers' offense isn't as fearsome as it looks on paper (2.57 goals per game, 18th in the NHL), giving as few opportunities as possible for Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Scott Hartnell, and Jakub Voracek can only help.
Additionally, Don't Do This Either: Don't take five penalties. Not taking many penalties is always a good rule of thumb. The Flyers are pretty good on the power play. While they're just behind the Devils in terms of success rate, they actually put pucks on net unlike the Devils. They're just outside of the top ten in shooting rate according to Extra Skater. Simmonds is more than a handful down low and his seven power play goals lead the team. Sixteen of Giroux's thirty eight points have come from the power play, which is sensible as the team's best player almost has a hand in man advantage situations. Giving those two along with Voracek space to work with is always a risk. Man advantages also give Vincent Lecavalier a chance to be productive, and five of his nine goals this season have come from them. Giving any opponent several power plays is a bad idea. The Flyers have the capability to make it worse.
In Fact, Keep This Game At Evens, Really: The Flyers have a very good penalty kill. Their success rate rates ninth in the league at 83.9%. More important than that, they prevent the fewest shots per sixty minutes when shorthanded in the league according to Extra Skater. Yes, they're better than the Devils at something that involves defense. Charlie O'Connor has a good article going into why they're so good on the PK at Broad Street Hockey. Sean Couturier, Nicklas Grossmann, Matt Read, Kimmo Timonen, Adam Hall, and Luke Schenn have been big on the PK for the Winged Ps. The Flyers will likely be without Read tonight. Frank Seravalli reported that he didn't practice on Monday and might have a concussion over at Philly.com. I don't think his absence will matter much shorthanded. One man won't totally change what they've done so far and neither will be one of the worst shooting power plays in the league. The Devils have an advantage at evens, they should try to keep it there.
Other Flyers Changes: Seravalli's report on Read also noted that while defenseman Erik Gustafsson practiced on Monday, he's not close to returning until later this week. That's kind of important as he's been one of the more positive possession defenders on the team. He doesn't play a lot normally but it does mean Andrej Meszaroes gets to play some more and the Devils should enjoy that match-up.
In this report by Sam Carhidi at Philly.com, Michael Raffl may return to the lineup. Raffl has two goals, nine assists, and 43 shots in 29 games. What's notable is that he sometimes does play on the wing with Giroux and Voracek, two of Philly's most dangerous players and the top two scorers on the team. Not surprisingly, they are ahead of all of the other Flyers forwards in possession in 5-on-5 play with the exception of Scott Hartnell. We'll see if they re-unite tonight. Either way, the Devils will likely match Andy Greene and Mark Fayne against Giroux and Voracek. At least, they should.
The Short Send Down of Eric: With Anton Volchenkov actually being healthy, he had to come off injured reserve for Saturday's game and so someone had to be sent down. Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas were the only healthy Devils who didn't have to go through waivers. The decision was made to send Gelinas down. Consternation. Uproar. Could he have helped in the Buffalo game? Maybe. Maybe not given all of the blocks the Devils had.
Anyway, it didn't last long. Gelinas was called up on Monday as Patrik Elias was put on injured reserve for his injury according to this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice. While Gelinas was paired with Adam Larsson in practice, I doubt the Devils just called up Gelinas to not play him. I wonder who will sit for him if he does. I would guess it's Merrill, but who knows? I have a feeling he'll go back down if/when Larsson gets healthy for roster purposes and that will last until an actual move is made on the blueline.
I Can't Understand Goalies Sometime: Gulitti also reported that Martin Brodeur will start tonight's game. I can't say I agree with this. Cory Schneider played a good game in Buffalo. There isn't a back-to-back until the weekend. Dallas is a better team than Philadelphia, but I don't see why Schneider couldn't start both games. Yes, he wasn't good in December but he might be bouncing back now (maybe, I hope). If there's a game suited for Brodeur to "get back into it," it's the home game against a low-scoring Florida team.
Alas, stranger than both - and perhaps as an indictment of both - is the other team's goaltending. Steve Mason has been, believe it or not, very good. He currently has an even strength save percentage of 92.8%, a number neither Brodeur or Schneider has even touched all season. (Their peaks have been 92.2%) He's been very good in shorthanded situations with an 89.1% save percentage. Yes, this is the very same Steve Mason who garnered many guffaws when he was signed in place of Ilya Bryzgalov. Who's laughing now? Based on the numbers, he won't make it easy for the Devils' forwards.
Philly does have a game on Wednesday against Montreal, so the Devils may get a bit of a break and Ray Emery instead. Emery has been vulnerable on the PK with a low 80% save percentage, though he's still pretty good at evens at 92% this season. We live in a world where Philly goalies have out-performed Schneider and Brodeur this season. Hopefully the Devils are able to get some chances and try and beat them, possibly with more than just deflections.
No Cam, No Problem: I am enjoying the fact that Peter DeBoer hasn't changed the forwards in Monday's practice. The same units lined up from the last two games according to Gulitti's report. While they could have done better in Buffalo, if they can just be more mindful of how, where, and when they're shooting, then they may find the goal frame and perhaps the goal more often.
So I'm looking forward to a young unit of Reid Boucher, Andrei Loktionov, and Mike Sislo get another chance. If the three can skate like they did on Friday -and Sislo definitely did that on Saturday - then I feel good about that line contributing something tonight. The CBGB line has been good in the last two games. Jaromir Jagr, Travis Zajac, and Dainius Zubrus have had some strong shifts and should be able to pound the boards again as they have for the better part of the past month and a half. I don't think Jagr's going to stay so quiet on the scoresheet for long. Philly's defense beyond Kimmo Timonen isn't really threatening in their own end in my opinion; that unit should continue to have good shifts. It would be helpful if the unit of Adam Henrique, Ryane Clowe, and Michael Ryder puts in a better effort than they did in the last two games. With Elias and Damien Brunner out, they pretty much have to be a second line. It would be good if they would contribute like it. Overall, the team has twelve actual forwards. I can't be unhappy at that.
Provided Clowe remembers he shouldn't be fighting and the others don't take calls, they should be able to put in a better night's work than 14 even strength shots against Buffalo. I'd prefer to see DeBoer go power-for-power and have Zajac face Giroux at evens. Zajac's certainly good enough to check against Giroux and Zubrus can definitely provide support against Voracek. This would open up the other lines to more favorable match ups in that they don't have to go up head-to-head against Giroux. Elias remains missed among this group since he could take on Giroux as well, but it is what it is. We'll see whether DeBoer goes that route.
This Game is Important: It's not just a rivalry game. The Devils and Flyers both need a win at this juncture. A win for the Flyers helps them take further control of second place and fends off the rest of the division. They're hot (7-2-1 in their last ten) and this is the time for them to make the most of this fire. A win for the Devils puts them back closer to a playoff spot. They need to continue progressing forward after getting nothing in a back-to-back a few days ago. The Devils seem to understand it based on this post by Gulitti at Fire & Ice. We'll see whether they play like it tonight on national television.
Your Take: The Second Rate Rivals return to the Rock. What do you think will happen tonight? What do the Devils have to do - besides the obvious - to win this game tonight? Can they exercise an advantage in possession? How do you want the Devils to attack the Flyers tonight? Who do you want matched up against Giroux's unit? Will this game be filled with calls? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.