Tell me if you've heard this one before. The New Jersey Devils play a game where they dominate in all facets of the game except for the scoreboard. That's precisely what happened tonight. The Devils outright dominated the Philadelphia Flyers for two periods in a rare manner. The shot count said all: 13-2 after the first period. 22-5 after the second period. Only in the third period did the Flyers actually not get repeatedly stood up at the blueline or have their dumps picked off, forcing the play to go back into the heavily-visited end of the rink to give goaltender Rob Zepp a lot more work. The Devils drew seven power plays, including three straight interference calls because the swarming was just that frustrating. Corsi? 51-24, but if you were at the game, you knew by eyesight which way the rink was tilted. The only area the game was close in the results department. The Devils won 3-1, which included an empty net goal.
Full credit to Rob Zepp, the Flyers' starting goaltender tonight. He's low on the depth chart, but he was the main reason this wasn't a blowout in favor of the good guys. Zepp left a lot of rebounds just waiting to be banged in - and one was - but he was able to get pieces of a various array of shots. Sure, there were a few shots that could have gone better. And there were some opportunities left wanting due to a bad pass to the skates or handcuff the shooter or waiting just a bit too long. But the Devils got 41 shots on net. Again, 22 in the second alone. We've seen games where the Devils need 60-65 minutes to get to 22. The gameplan worked and quite a few of them made Zepp sweat and the coaches sweat harder. I wouldn't be surprised if Philly's team talk after the second intermission was just Zepp pleading "Guys, seriously, help me out." But he was the main man for a bunch of skaters that weren't on point. I will say the talent advantage was in favor of New Jersey tonight. While the Devils didn't ice a very strong lineup, four of their six defensemen will be on the NHL roster in a week and most of the forwards would be too. As for Philadelphia, with such a heavy preseason schedule, they had more of their depth playing as well.
It's a shame that both Flyers-Devils games were so one-sided, though. Because the Devils kicked the Flyers around for 40 minutes and weathered only a few third period storms, it's hard to say whether we learned anything about various players. Scott Clemmensen got the whole game like Keith Kinkaid did in Brooklyn. He faced all of 16 shots, with 9 of them in the third period. With such a low amount, can the two goalies really be compared to make a decision as to who should be the backup? Scott Gomez was hailed as the game's first star with two power play goals. Yet, those goals were a deflection and an easy put-back - his only two shots of the game. Did he really make that much of a difference at evens? What of Jacob Josefson, Jordin Tootoo, and the CBGBs? They pounded the net and kept things going forward; but given how poor the Flyers were playing, it's hard to conclude whether they're for real or just beat up on a team's depth that wasn't all that good to begin with and played even worse. Peter DeBoer and the staff do have difficult decisions to make. The group that played the first and third preseason games were involved in more competitive contests, where as the group that mostly played the Flyers games were either straight up awful or looked like men against boys on those nights. What to decide? We'll find out soon enough. At least the Devils did manage to ice the game with a ENG instead of giving up a late equalizer and lamenting that the advantages in play didn't yield goals.
The Opposition Opinion: There may or may not be an opinion on this game at Broad Street Hockey. I wouldn't blame them if they just wanted to forget this one. It is a preseason game, after all.
The Game Highlights: This game wasn't on TV so there are no highlights I can point you to. With cameras getting footage on the jumbotron and the TV screens on the concourse, I don't know why the Devils didn't bother streaming it online like they have done in years past.
Errors in the Stats: If you read NHL.com's stats, you'll learn that Scott Timmins and Nick Luukko apparently played while Robert Hagg scored Philadelphia's lone goal. That's obviously an error in their system. Ryan Carter wore #20 for New Jersey; Luukko didn't dress for the Flyers; and the shorthanded goal was a put-back by Taylor Leier, who's nowhere to be seen on the stat sheet. I guess it's preseason for the data people at NHL.com too.
Absent Video, Let Me Describe the Goals: The first goal: As the Devils were winding down their third power play of the game, someone had the bright idea of dumping the puck at the red line with a slapshot. That's usually a tell-tale sign of giving up on a PP. However, Marek Zidlicky was able to get to the boards in time to win the puck and touch it back for Tuomo Ruutu. Ruutu took a long shot that Gomez got a piece of, which beat Zepp to his right. It was near the end of the first, so it was a nice reward for a strong period even though that particular power play wasn't so hot.
The second goal: The Devils were struggling to gain the zone on their fourth power play of the evening. But they finally found some space and Damien Brunner was able to get into the zone on the right side (relative to Zepp) along the boards. He tossed a puck to Ruutu, who was in a good position for a close shot. The puck either went off Zepp or got through him, but was sliding along the goal line. Gomez was the first to the net and tapped it in for 2-0 lead.
The goal against came on the Devils' seventh power play. After the faceoff, the puck was flung out of the zone at an angle off the boards. Blair Jones was able to get onto the puck and get around Damon Severson, who was moving backwards, with no big issue. Scott Clemmensen made the stop on Jones. However, Taylor Leier was the first to a close rebound and slammed the puck into the net. The Flyers would try to repeat this approach for success. They came close, but a goal waved off when the Flyers crashed the net and contacted Clemmensen hard in the process later in the third.
The empty net goal. The Devils were able to get a clearance just after the one minute mark. A Flyer (his name escapes me, was it Matt Read?) moved the puck away from the right boards in the face of pressure over to the left. The diagonal pass of hope was picked off by Zidlicky in the neutral zone. Rather than go for goal from distance, he carried the puck into the zone, got around two Flyers, and fired it in past a kneeling Flyer to ice the game.
This Power Play - Quantity, Not Necessarily Quality: The Devils got seven power plays and generated twelve shots across them all, including two goals. Good for Gomez to get two PPGs, but they weren't exactly the results of well set-up play. The first was a fortunate deflection where he was just in the right place at the right time. The second was a lay-up where he got to be in the right place at the right time. Even with the Flyers not playing a full-NHL roster, it was apparent to me that their system gave the Devils more difficulties than the Islanders' way of killing penalties. The Devils often did not get clean zone entries and did not find a lot of seams for shots in desirable locations. There weren't as many set-ups as they had on Friday night. Whether that's a personnel issue, a system issue, or execution, your mileage may vary. While the Devils got just as many power play goals tonight as they did on Friday and it was critical to getting to tonight's result, I think the Devils were better then.
So What Does it Mean for Gomez?: He got two power play goals, which ultimately made the difference tonight. It's a results-oriented business and he got them. However, I wasn't that impressed with how he played overall. Again, those two goals weren't exactly good examples of him showing he can be a regular contributor for the team. Those were his only shots on net, though Gomez has never been a prolific shooter so that's actually understandable. He didn't help make the power play go as well as he did on Friday night. I didn't see him break the puck out too much. He was better at even strength, but that doesn't tell me much because the Flyers were hideous at evens for most of the night.
Scoring two goals, a former Devils guy trying to get his career going again, playing well in spite a smattering of booing early (old habits die hard, also they weren't very loud or common - not from where I was sitting, at least), turning them into cheers and so forth makes a nice story. But I don't want to see 82 games or a contract handed out for a story. I am not convinced he's one of the best 14 forwards (plus Ryan Carter) left in preseason or that the Devils should make a move of some sort to include him. If you feel otherwise, then please let me know, because I'm not fully seeing it.
What About Tootoo?: Jordin Tootoo displayed more of the energy one would hope from a fourth liner. He got 4 shots, a minor penalty after a post-whistle beef, and had one really nice power move after an ill-advised icing in the third period to help the Devils get a change. It was the best I've seen him, though I haven't thought much of him all preseason. Again, the lack of roster space really hurts; I don't think he's better than any of the 14 forwards (plus Carter) left on the roster.
Other Notes: Adam Larsson was a minute-munching machine out there. He played over 27 minutes of tonight's game, featuring on both power play and penalty kill situations. I don't know if he'll get a lot of PP time in this coming season, but the fact he did well on the PK bodes well for him since I fully expect him to get more shorthanded ice time this season. I liked his game overall; easily the standout defenseman of the night.
The Mike Cammalleri, Travis Zajac, and Jaromir Jagr trio actually looked like a functional line tonight. Of course, when the opposition struggled to move the puck through the neutral zone so much, it's easy for offensive lines to get more attacking shifts. They did that and they combined for 10 shots on net. I think another game or two and we'll see some really good things from them.
I will have a separate post about the presentation and what I noticed at The Rock, complete with pictures of what I saw that was there and (more importantly) what wasn't there. Expect that on Monday or Tuesday night. The long and short of it is that I hope the team uses it's time wisely to really get the place ready for the first home regular season game in mid-October.
Your Take: The Devils won a game they really did control for most of it. I don't know what real lessons have come out of it, but maybe you have some thoughts on that as well as the game as a whole. Please leave them in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.