Welcome to the 2014-15 regular season.
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils at the Philadelphia Flyers (0-1-0, SBN Blog: Broad Street Hockey)
The Season Previews: The SBN NHL Preview is here if you want previews and articles relevant to all teams. You can find our in-depth, seven-section Devils preview on this page.
The Last Flyers Game: This is the Devils' season opener and the Flyers' home opener. The hosts began their season last night in Boston. On a national television, the Flyers conceded a late goal. Steve Mason fought off the puck like a soccer goalkeeper trying to punch the ball away. Only the puck dropped behind him and Loui Eriksson tapped it in. The goal put the Bruins up 2-1, long after Sean Couturier provided an equalizer. It appears a punchless power play, discipline, and a generally poor attack help did the Flyers in. Travis Hughes has this recap of the game at Broad Street Hockey.
The Goal: For the unaware, I like to highlight one aspect of the game that I think will be important for the Devils to achieve victory as The Goal. Of course the goal is to score more than the other team to win the game. That's obvious. So this is in addition to that clear and present truth.
I believe the Devils really need to play with pace, particularly to start the game. That's not the same as just firing at will anytime someone is open for more than a half-second. They were a low-event team in terms of shooting attempts at last season and will likely be that way again. No, I'm referring to the speed of the game. The Devils aren't necessarily a fast team, but they'll be well-rested against a Flyers team that did play last night. Sure, it's the beginning of the season so the fatigue may not be too bad; but it's imperative to get any kind of jump on any opponent that played on the road the night before. A fast start could pay dividends with an early lead and then Devils can afford to be more methodical in their play.
It's Now the Regular Season, So Commence the Complaints About the Lineup!: Peter DeBoer, head coach of the New Jersey Devils, traditionally uses his lines from the previous practice as the line up in the upcoming game. This will surely cause some fans to be unhappy based on Tom Gulitti's report at Fire & Ice of Wednesday's practice. Adam Larsson, Damien Brunner, and Jacob Josefson appear to be on the outside as Stephen Gionta, Jordin Tootoo, and Damon Severson were skating with regulars. Brunner and Josefson were skating with the unsigned, unofficial "taxi squad forward" Scott Gomez whereas Larsson was switching with Jon Merrill next to Eric Gelinas. I don't think Merrill is going to sit, so that would make Larsson the seventh defenseman whereas Brunner and Josefson are the thirteenth and fourteenth forwards for now.
This is part of the problem of having a full roster, exacerbated by the team's decision to get to a 23-man roster. The team was impressed enough with Severson to keep him in the NHL and with Tootoo to sign him at all. They weren't kept or signed to not play. So someone has to sit. I feel bad for Larsson because I thought he was solid and as the fourth-most experienced defenseman on the roster, I would think he would be safer. Apparently not. He gets to sit for someone younger. I did smirk writing that previous sentence. I feel bad for Brunner because I thought he did well in preseason, at least better than Tootoo. He may not be as pleased playing on a fourth line, but a line of Tuomo Ruutu, Gionta, and Brunner would signal a new possibilities for what the fourth line would do on New Jersey. Imagine: a fourth line whose goal isn't to have as little happen as possible. A unit of Ruutu, Gionta, and Tootoo may be a peg trying to be crammed into a CBGB hole. We'll see, starting with tonight.
In the big picture, this may be only a short lived moment. It's not like Larsson or Brunner won't be playing any games for New Jersey all season. But I can understand those complaints. I won't hear how unfair it is for Josefson. The guy played his way out of an active lineup in preseason as far as I saw him.
The Other Three Lines Will Be a Thing to Watch For: While the Devils' scratches affect the bottom end of the lineup, the other three forward lines will be of particular interest. DeBoer has kept them through the end of preseason. Newcomer Mike Cammalleri will remain with Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr as that unit continues to "date." Regardless of how that goes, expect plenty of #68 doing work down low. Fellow newcomer Martin Havlat will ride with Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus as a unit that will continue to avoid fading (looking at you, Zubrus). Ryane Clowe, Adam Henrique, and Michael Ryder are expected to re-unite from their combination last season that wasn't bad when Clowe was healthy and Ryder's stick wasn't ice-cold. If these nine come together right away, the Devils become a far more difficult team to defend against. Given that Philadelphia's defense is questionable on paper, it would be fantastic to see that come to fruition to some degree tonight. In theory, it should. The Henrique line is brought back from last season and the other two lines have a common pairing: Jagr and Zajac, Elias and Zubrus. Provided Havlat and Cammalleri complement their respective pairings, we could see something really good blossom starting tonight.
Of course, there's also some doubts I wonder I'll witness tonight. Those right wingers - Jagr, Zubrus, Ryder - aren't exactly fast and/or defensively sound. That could be something of a positional exploit for Philadelphia. Ryane Clowe, among the nine, is of particular concern as I recall how slow he was to start last season. Given that the style of attack for New Jersey still emphasizes getting the puck deep, it's still a crew that could be hit back for counter-attacks if they're not careful with the puck. And, most of all, who knows how much they'll generate on offense. Preseason really didn't provide too many answers given the lack of even strength goals, the fact that they really only were killing it against teams playing crummy hockey (like, well, Philadelphia last Sunday), and the fact it was preseason and no veteran's going 100% in preseason. The Devils may not be expected to produce a lot, but the current group may not be
Good or bad, this won't be decided tonight and I fully anticipate changes until the Devils get into some kind of a groove. For tonight, I want to see how they do as a group against a full NHL opponent.
The Danger Man: Claude Giroux is easily Philadelphia's best and most important player. With a defense led by, I guess, Braydon Coburn and the Possession Black Hole Named Andrew MacDonald, and a goaltending tandem that features Steve Mason (I'm expecting Ray Emery tonight on the basis of Mason playing last night), the Flyers will likely live and die by their forwards this season. And their best forward is Claude Giroux; ergo, he's the main man. He's remarkably productive; he averaged over 20 minutes per game last season and will likely do so again because he can handle the minutes; he's rather talented; and he's a possession-driving player. I know it's trite to write that it's preferable for him to be stopped. And the Flyers do have impressive forward depth with Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek (usually on Giroux's right), Brayden Schenn (you might see him on Giroux's left), RJ Umberger, and occasionally Vincent Lecavalier. But to really undercut the Flyer's attack, then Giroux must be limited as much as possible. Don't give him the benefit of several power plays where he can roam and strike in space. At evens, well, good luck to whoever gets that match-up.
Go Cory: Cory Schneider proved to be really good last season and did very well in preseason games as warm-ups. With no baggage behind him, he should be quite good - starting with tonight. I just hope the 18 skaters in front of him give him the proper support.
Meanwhile, At the Rock: The Prudential Center will be playing host to a viewing party. Season ticket holders got an invitation last night by email to RSVP for seats in the club and to pick up your season ticket tenure jersey. Not a season ticket holder? You can still go, it's open to the public. Based on the email I got from their PR department, the first intermission will feature a preview of the on-ice game presentation. I'm guessing this is to show off what Josh Harris got from Quince Imaging. If you're going, then why not tell us what you saw?
How Important is Winning?: "It's not everything, it's the only thing!"
OK, in all seriousness, it's the Second Rate Rivals, so of course I personally think it's important. However, it's not the end of the world. It will be harrowing if they drop all of their games heading into next Saturday's home opener. Might as well push to get this one if only get that first one under their belts. And because it's the Second Rate Rivals.
Your Take: It's the first game of the season, it's a rivalry game against an opponent who just played last night, and it's an opportunity to start this season on a better foot than last season. Let's go Devils.
What do you think will happen tonight? What do you make of the roster as it is? Will Tootoo and Severson justify their positions? Can the top three lines figure it out? How should the Devils handle Giroux? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.