Special players don't necessarily follow the conventional wisdom and tend to do special things from time to time. Jaromir Jagr is the living example of the former simply by his presence today. Players are done by age 42. Usually well before 42. The body breaks down, age and years of damage catch up, the game changes, and the talent only goes so far. Jagr is 42, he'll turn 43 in February, and while he's not the same player he once was, don't think for a second he's just biding his time and just collecting a check. Tonight, Jagr reminded everyone who didn't need a reminder that he's still got plenty left in the proverbial gas tank. He did this by doing something he hasn't done since 2006: score a hat trick. It was the crowning achievement in a 5-2 victory, where the poor Philadelphia Flyers were beaten down by #68 and the New Jersey Devils as a whole.
I'm going to break down the three goals on Monday. It'll be a nice antidote after what will be a very disheartening December in review. I will say that these were some lovely goals. Ray Emery should've received a secondary assist for the first one. Mark Streit probably feels shame on the second one. Ditto Niklas Grossman, who couldn't keep up and got boxed out by Jagr for the third. Five shots, 16:50 of ice time, three goals, and dominating poor Flyers defensemen (a redundancy?) throughout the night. Jagr proved yet again that he's a special player. As if there was any doubt.
Jagr's hat trick was the delicious bread of a club sandwich of goals for New Jersey tonight. Patrik Elias put home a lovely one-timer from an equally lovely pass by Martin Havlat to convert a power play in the first period. Due to a fortuitous shot block on defense, four Devils rushed up early in the second and Scott Gomez blasted a shot far post to beat Steve Mason.
The amazing thing among all of those goals were that the Flyers didn't really respond. Typically, a team will play to the score. Down a goal or two, expect the losing team to push forward and try to get more attempts and shots. The Flyers did not do this until it was 5-0 in favor of New Jersey. The Devils would get a goal and then the play would continue until the Devils got another. The Devils built up such a large lead, they could afford to play the rest of the game as if it was in cruise control. Whenever the Devils faltered, the Flyers rarely did much with the opportunity. That the Devils were ultimately out-shot 18-20 speaks to both how well the Devils handled the lead and how awful the Flyers were tonight.
Yes, they got two goals. Andrew MacDonald put home a one-timer from the weakside that Cory Schneider had no chance somewhat late in the second, thanks in part to Dainius Zubrus' stick being broken. Vincent Lecavalier converted a power play in the third period with a high shot past a screen. But they were nothing more than consolation. No one at the Rock really believed the Flyers could mount a threatening comeback attempt, perhaps the Flyers players most of all. And the proof was on the boxscore; not only did they only put up twenty on target, they only attempted 39 shots all game, and amazingly only four shots in the third period. With little to lose, the Flyers just played the game out and the Devils were more than happy to do so as they already made their mark.
I have to say, tonight was one of the most enjoyable games I have seen a while. Jagr got to become the oldest player in NHL history to get a hat trick, his first since 2006, and he did so in a winning effort. He proved that he remains a special player. Elias and Gomez also put up tallies, as Henrique also added to his point totals. Travis Zajac, Michael Ryder, Andy Greene and Adam Larsson put in good performances. Mark Fraser looked decent. Even Tim Sestito had a rip-roaring shot on net. All of this and against a rival opponent that truly lived up to the my nickname of them: the Second Rate Rivals. A glorious beat down took place in Newark and I got to witness it all. The season may be lost, but that's no reason to not beam about a win like tonight's.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Devils Time on Ice Log | The Natural Stat Trick Corsi Charts
The Opposition Opinion: Kurt R. is understandably unhappy in his recap at Broad Street Hockey. He theorizes that perhaps the Flyers might join the bad teams soon. Hey, Kurt, peep my Metropolitan Division Snapshots on Sundays; the Flyers have been on the outside of the postseason picture for a while now.
The Game Highlights: The NHL.com highlight video is one that must be watched because if you're a Devils fan, then you will enjoy video of the Devils wrecking a rival.
A List of Flyers I Noticed: Claude Giroux is an excellent forward. Clearly, he's an important part of the Flyers because the team looked real bad without him. I can only name a handful of Flyers who made an impact of sorts tonight.
First, there were the two goal scorers. Out of all of the Flyers, I'd say Vincent Lecavalier was probably the most effective player. MacDonald was actually positive, save for a silly tripping penalty he took in the third that helped snuff out any faint hopes of making it a game for Philly.
Second, there were the goalies. Ray Emery was not good in the crease. He made a big mistake behind the net, playing the puck off an accidental dump-in - Henrique missed a neutral zone pass - and playing it softly. I'd also say he had a chance at Jagr's second goal. He was pulled after the first and I can't say it wasn't totally undeserved. Mason was somewhat better but he looked silly on both goals against.
Third, there were the Flyers who did something costly. Mark Streit looked dumb on Jagr's second goal; he should've taken that puck and fling it away. Alas, he's featured in a highlight video. Zac Rinaldo had his requisite fight and elbowed Scott Gomez after Elias goal because any time you give up a PPG, you should put your team back on a PK.
But after all that, there was a whole lot of not much from Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Matt Read, R.J. Umberger, and so forth. Jakub Voracek had plenty of attempts, so he was a bit more active, but he wasn't the scoring threat in lieu of Giroux tonight that perhaps the team needed. They just didn't impact the game all that much. Those are all forwards and since the Flyers' strength is their depth at forward, then several not doing much really means the team isn't doing much. Michael Del Zotto, just to pick a name, wasn't going to be leading the cause in their place. This team missed Giroux tonight.
But just as much, they missed effective puck control, situational awareness, and - dare I say it - energy. You could count on your hand the number of good, pressure-filled shifts by the Flyers. And even less if you take out the ones helped out by a Devil losing their stick. They had a real long one when Henrique was stickless, namely because they kept exploiting that. They didn't score then; and I'd argue in retrospect that it was at the point, it was almost definite this wasn't going to end closely. The Devils weren't so sharp, but the Flyers often did nothing with the Devils' little errors and kept making plenty of their own.
Hence, a lot of Flyers looked bad and I only noticed a few - some of them for dubious reasons.
Defensively Strong: The Devils held their lead while conceding only 20 shots and 39 shooting attempts. They took only two calls, only one that could be described as defense, and both in the third. I didn't think Adam Larsson needed to hold Umberger along the sideboards, and I didn't think Michael Ryder had to impede Coutrier in the neutral zone. While the team conceded a PPGA, this was a generally good performance by the defense. They made some good interventions to prevent a shot or a dangerous play. They didn't get caught napping too often on defense, save for one leading pass during a penalty kill. While the Flyers certainly struggled tonight, the defense in general did a good job getting stops and making many good outlets and clearances.
While Larsson and Greene spent more time in their own end than going forward, I liked what they did together against the Flyers' best. I do think they can be a pairing until Damon Severson returns. Jon Merrill was pretty good, a solid game from him. Most impressively, a pairing of Marek Zidlicky and Mark Fraser did not get blown up either by Zidlicky being too aggressive or Fraser being out of his depth. The forwards tended to help out successfully, which made it a relatively easy night for Mr. Schneider. Well done.
Good for Adam, Not So for Mike: Adam Henrique was taken away from centering the third line and lined up with Gomez and Jagr tonight. The results speak for themselves: two assists on a line that put up four goals. It would have been nice if he got a shot on net, but he had attempts and assists, so that's a bit nitpicky. Who replaced Henrique at center? Mike Cammalleri.
It was an odd sight seeing Cammalleri center Dainius Zubrus and Michael Ryder. I don't think it was all that effective. Whereas Gomez's line put up points and Zajac's line put up some strong possession shifts, Cammalleri's line did not do a whole lot. While Ryder put in an actual effort based on what I saw, he failed to get a shot on net. That defeats the potential usefulness of Ryder. Zubrus was just there. As was Cammalleri, since he only put a shot on net. This line did not do so well.
While the team is close to having twelve NHL forwards in the lineup, it's clear that center is thin and so there's going to be somebody in that spot that doesn't quite fit so well. Tonight, it was Cammalleri. Hopefully a center gets healthy soon - Jacob Josefson, maybe? - and Cammalleri can go back to being a winger with linemates he meshes better with.
State of Your Business, Pt. 2: I do not think anyone will doubt that the Devils' second rivalry is with the Flyers. These games are just filled with bad feelings between the team and tonight was no different as there were four fights. Yet, this Saturday night rivalry game was not a sell out. Not even close to one.
To be fair, there is a reasonable explanation beyond the real possibility of ticket prices being too high: these teams aren't good. While football season is essentially over in this region, neither the Flyers or Devils have a realistic shot at the playoffs. They're not good teams and they are arguably not even fun bad teams. (Tonight's an exception, the Devils were super fun.) Fans aren't stupid, so why should they come out it force to pay a lot of money to see either? While the crowd wasn't bad, it wasn't a full house like a rivalry game perhaps should yield. So if I'm in the Devils' sales department - and I know you all read this site - then I would be concerned about how games like, say, a Tuesday night against Buffalo are going to do at the gate if a Flyers-Devils game isn't going to fill all the seats. But I'm not, so I'll just observe as usual.
On 18 Shots: Typically, getting less than 20 shots in a hockey game is pathetic. But it's much more tolerable if those 18 shots consist of five goals. Normally, a one-shot third period isn't good. But conceding only four in the same period is a world of a difference from conceding 16 on 40 attempts. The Devils earned their right to cruise to a win tonight because they scored so many goals, so I'm not going to grouse about the low shot count.
Short Summary of This Game: WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
Your Take: This was a wonderful game to watch and I'm looking forward to breaking down Jagr's hat trick. What did you think of tonight's game? How surprised were you to see the Flyers play so poorly? Did you agree with the Devils cruising to victory throughout the third? How did you react when Jagr got his hat trick? Was Jagr amazing or merely incredible tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts of this win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.