Rust is a common word in preseason and early season analysis. Players may have practiced and stayed in shape all season, but nothing is like an actual game situation against an opposition. Often, those first few games will be rough as players get back into their usual form. It could be argued as a cliche, but I do think it was on display among the New Jersey Devils tonight. With the exception of five skaters, it was the first game for many of the Devils in preseason. They took on the Philadelphia Flyers, who played a total of four preseason games so most if not all of their roster has at least a game under their proverbial belts. With that in mind, it should then be no surprise that the Flyers were crisper in their passes, quicker turning defensive stops and turnovers into offense, and more organized all game long. They decisively out-possessed, out-shot, and out-performed the Devils and deservedly won 4-0.
Rust is also not an excuse for an entirely poor performance, though. I believe performances are more important than results in preseason games. I don't think any Devil forward really had a very good night. Only the CBGB line wasn't dominated and they drew a few calls. Then again, Stephen Gionta struggled and took an offensive zone penalty, and Ryan Carter didn't do too much. It's not much to praise. I certainly won't praise a defense that, as a unit, conceded 32 shots overall and 13 even strength shots in the second period alone. Special teams were especially abhorrent. Cory Schneider was victimized but I can't really say he did well either. I can really only think of three major pluses: no major injuries, a game under everyone's belt, and the fact that this result doesn't matter. We can hope the rust is removed later in preseason and games like this won't happen too often in the season.
The Opposition Opinion: You know who may be pleased by this game? Those at Broad Street Hockey. Look to them for an opposition point of view.
The Game Highlights: I guess these would be highlights for the Flyers - and only the Flyers.
Repeat Chances: As mentioned earlier, there were five Devils who played their second preseason game tonight: Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas, Jacob Josefson, Reid Boucher, and Tomas Kaberle. They did not cover themselves in glory. Larsson-Gelinas started as a pairing and were split up later in the game - and for good reason. They got picked on as a unit. They looked lost and with the forwards being all over the place, it was far different from Monday's game. Gelinas took two minor penalties, the second of which wiped out a power play. Larsson mishandled his fair share of pucks. It was bad. What didn't help was that Bryce Salvador & Marek Zidlicky (sweet "defense" for the fourth goal against, by the way) and Kaberle & Peter Harrold were just as porous. So moving each around didn't help too much. Kaberle did not play nearly as much as he did on Monday but still got over 20 minutes. He still played a lot in his own end and contributed little to the power play.
Again, not a lot of reason to praise the offense. Whereas Boucher was flying and totally noticeable on Monday, he was entirely invisible tonight. Did you know he played over 14 minutes tonight? He did, apparently. Josefson at least didn't take a stupid penalty late, but he didn't do much positive either. This night should dampen the proverbial sails for Boucher making an unlikely run to make the squad. It may dampen Josefson's chances, but he's got a one-way deal and the fact he got a second game after a not-quite-so-good first one may mean he's more secure. We'll see.
The Gomez Experience: Scott Gomez made his re-debut in Devils uniform tonight. He lost all eight faceoffs, he provided next-to-no offense, and struggled on defense. He wasn't as bad as Komisarek was on Monday, but this night did not help his cause whatsoever.
Special Teams Barfing Section: Tonight's penalty kill sank the Devils. Conceding three penalties in a row and power play goals on each resulting power play within the first 15 minutes of the game will do that. The penalties themselves were fair calls. But the goals, oh, man, the goals were not good on the killers.
The first PPGA featured Andrew MacDonald jumping up on the play, receiving one good pass, and then threading a pass past Zidlicky (who was at least by MacDonald) and Salvador (who was hanging out covering no one in front of the crease) to Brayden Schenn on Schneider's right flank.
The second PPGA was quicker. Everyone was focused on the right side of the ice, so Mark Streit making a pass to Jakub Voracek on the left was problematic. The shot was above the circle, but what made it count was Vincent Lecavalier freely going through the slot to re-direct it, which beat Schneider.
There was hope that the Devils would kill the third power play, but that hope ended when Jason Akeson got position on Peter Harrold, laid a pass out left, and Shayne Gostisbehere hammered in a one timer for the third PPGA.
In six total shots, the Philly power play ran only hotter with three goals. On each one, I noticed a lack of communication and awareness of where the defenders were supposed to be. I understand someone has to be open in a 4-on-5 situation. There shouldn't be attackers getting into prime positions, though. Why was Salvador hanging out in the middle instead of being near Schenn, who was at the right post long enough for him to know he should stick with him? Why was Larsson so far up and the wingers so loaded to the right that they were caught out when Voracek got the puck? Who was watching Gostisbehere? These are the key questions, among others, the coaches and players will have to sort out for the next game.
While the penalty kill wrecked New Jersey early on, the power play was a disappointment. The Flyers ended up matching the Devils in penalties. They did put eight shots on net in total, but most weren't threatening. I can't recall if there were any in the slot or up close. I do recall Damien Brunner fanning on one in the slot and passing up a clear shooting lane to drop it to the boards on separate occasions. The zone entries were a bit better but the Devils struggled to turn it into anything. Worse, they conceded three shorthanded shots on net - including a Zidlicky turnover at the blueline - and a shorthanded rush that led to Gelinas wiping out their final power play.
I suppose this is the fourth major positive for New Jersey out of this game: the coaches got a clear sign that they need to work on special teams. I'm confident that the penalty kill will sort itself out with better communication and not seeing guys like Zidlicky, Harrold, and Kaberle playing significant shorthanded minutes. The power play, well, who knows.
As for the Opposition: Rust or no rust, the Flyers played a very good game. The Devils were struggling to move the puck effectively. The Flyers were hitting pass after pass. When the Devils turned it over or got caught too deep on offense, they pounced in response. Throw in an early 3-0 lead, and they just kept on rolling. Scott Laughton, Gostisbehere, and Sam Morin were each very impressive on the ice. It's my understanding that they could be on the outside looking in to make the roster, but nights like this will give the Flyers second thoughts. Good for them. Voracek was a danger with the puck. Brayden Coburn and Streit were very effective on the blueline, Coburn's penalties aside. Steve Mason and Rob Zepp didn't have to do too much but they didn't falter. While the Devils faithful - myself included - can and will chalk this up to one bad preseason game to learn from; the Flyers fans have more reason to be confident in their team.
Lastly: I will only get worried, concerned, and bothered by the team not playing to their system and veteran players (e.g. Mike Cammalleri, Jaromir Jagr) largely being ineffective if this continues in future preseason games. I have admittedly wrote that to remind myself that.
Your Take: So the Devils got pulverized by the Flyers on the ice tonight. What's your reaction? What was the one area you think the Devils need to work on the most? Does this affect their approach for Friday's game against the Isles? Should it? Were there any bright spots in your eyes? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game.
Thanks to all those who followed along in the Gamethread, followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter, and you for reading this recap.