Whatever your expectations are for the New Jersey Devils season, it's an almost universal desire to want to see a rival defeated. And not just defeated, but doing so with a better performance and by multiple scores. The New Jersey Devils did just that to the Philadelphia Flyers tonight. Their 4-1 win is their first by more than one goal this season. Most of the scoring came in the third period, including the boost that comes from a (long) empty net goal. Yet, it was clear that the Devils were the better team throughout the majority of the game.
There's plenty of positives to takeaway from most aspects of the game. The Devils came out strong and very nearly scored with two post shots. They ended the first period with thirteen shots in addition to those that hit the frame. Unlike Tuesday's loss to Columbus, the Devils were more than willing to fire away at Steve Mason while establishing control in the first period. Also unlike that game against the Blue Jackets, the Devils never really stopped. There was no period of both teams negating each other's offense into a struggle. The Devils finished the night with thirty three shots on net. The Flyers' late flurry got them up to twenty eight, but the Devils out-shot them throughout the evening. This turned out to be a high-event game and the Devils had the edge until the final four minutes where Philly got desperate.
While the Devils did not score in their strong first period efforts or on earlier power plays, they did not get down on themselves when the Flyers scored first. Luke Schenn fired a shot from the sideboards and it got through Cory Schneider. The puck may have hit off Stephen Gionta in front, but it wasn't a good goal to allow from what I saw. The Devils responded minutes later. Travis Zajac - who had a fabulous night - drew an interference call when Scott Laughton denied him a chance to go after a puck he blocked away. On the ensuing power play, Zajac got a stick on a Kyle Palmieri pass to put one past Mason - the goalie had no chance - and it was 1-1. Crisis averted.
The team's speed was apparent tonight. Everyone was hustling and chasing down loose pucks or coming back to defend. Short of a few poor turnovers, no one was really caught terribly out of position. And when the Devils would get a block at their blueline or knock a puck up ice, there were pushes to take it in either alone or with friends on the counter-attack. Lee Stempniak led the Devils with five shots and at least three of them were a function of that concept. I was hoping he'd put one of them away to reward his on-ice hunger for pucks tonight. Blocking shots for the sake of blocking shots isn't helpful. Blocks that have that fortunate bounce behind the Flyer shooting it can be and it helped the Devils tonight.
The biggest positive was that the Devils kept attacking and the goals did come. Early in the third period, Kyle Palmieri got a block at the blueline (another example of this), skated it up to the top of the circle, and fired a scorcher past Mason to make it 2-1. A little later, the Flyers got caught with six skaters on the ice for their second too many men on the ice call of the night, and the Devils punished them again. A deft touch pass by Eric Gelinas to Palmieri allowed him to feed Zajac in the middle. Zajac put it on his backhand, fired, and beats Mason high. It's 3-1 and the Devils didn't really stop attacking. When the Flyers pressed hard and pulled Mason, then yeah, the Devils' offense was forced to be quiet. Even then, Andy Greene denied Wayne Simmonds a potential tap-in and launched a 180ish footer into the empty net. The three goal third period is evidence that by continuing to get opportunities and taking them, the success will come. Tonight, it not only slayed the Flyers, but it also reflected the good work the Devils did throughout most of the game.
In other words, the Devils were fast, attacking, and supportive in their 4-1 win tonight over a Flyers team that isn't very good. Seriously, their defense got exposed. They got punished for two of their five penalties, which included two too many men on the ice calls. Most of their offense was carried by the Claude Giroux line, which only got more and more frustrated as time went on. They got out-attempted until the end, when they were down by two and looking for something late. Mason looked good to start; but ultimately, the team's best shots beat him. It wasn't a perfect night for New Jersey; but they looked way better than Philly tonight. Again, that's what all fans want in a rivalry game. Not just a win, but a decisive one. The Devils got that over the Second Rate Rivals this evening.
The Opposition Opinion: Sheer seconds after the game ended, Charlie O'Connor had this recap up at Broad Street Hockey. Here's the first sentence:
The New Jersey Devils have become known in these parts for favoring a style of play that is not exactly aesthetically pleasing.
Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder; I thought this game was gorgeous.
The Game Highlights: A brace from Zajac, a great goal by Palmieri, and a long empty netter. These are your game highlights as per NHL.com:
Everyone Chips In: Nearly every single Devil got a shot on net tonight. The only two skaters that didn't were Damon Severson and Jacob Josefson. Each had at least two attempts blocked. Severson's was mostly on a power play where the Devils had most of the time in Philly's end of the rink and he tried to fire long shots through traffic to no avail. Josefson had five attempts and none of them hit the net. After that no-shot power play where Severson got blocked two or three times; Josefson got a terrific feed from Zajac in the middle but he couldn't get it to the net. He had other opportunities, I'm sure on another night, the goalie gets some of them - or one beats him.
Beyond the two without any SOGs, there were some standouts who contributed the 33 the Devils had tonight. I mentioned Stempniak, who led the team with five. Palmieri was especially lively tonight. He got four out of his eight attempts on net. His four shots were good; his goal was absolutely fantastic. Zajac had three, two were power play goals and he nearly stashed in one in close from a great pass by Jiri Tlusty. He was close to the hat trick, he was great at the dot, and so he had another strong game. The points will come for that Zajac line at evens should they keep attacking like that. While Adam Henrique and Mike Cammalleri were held pointless, they put in work - including a good chunk of that desperation offense by Philly at the end of the game.
Seven Again: John Hynes decided to go with seven defensemen again. While they didn't crush it like, say, most of the Columbus game, it was a fairly good night for the team defense. The Devils were solid in coming back to help. They got into some trouble with a handful of turnovers and poor decisions to ice it; but for the most part, the Devils held on when they had to and denied most of Flyers' attempts when they tried to rush into New Jersey's end. Cory Schneider had a good game and the Devils made sure he didn't have to be totally brilliant for the team to have a chance tonight.
I'm still not sold on whether Jon Merrill should be in the lineup. I didn't like that penalty he took and I'm surprised to see that he got more ice time than Damon Severson, David Schlemko and Eric Gelinas. That said, I can't say he did anything really all that wrong throughout the night. The Flyers didn't pick on him all night long. I would guess that increase in ice time would mean he's set to be in the lineup when Hynes goes back to six defensemen. But who would sit? I don't know. What I do know is that Andy Greene and Adam Larsson were bosses this evening. The sort of defensemen I'm sure Flyers fans wished they had instead of, say, Nick Schultz.
Punishment Works: I have to emphasize that the Devils made the Flyers pay for two of their penalties and I'm real pleased about that. While even strength scoring remains a concern, getting PPGs is always a plus. Laughton's interference call on Zajac was a text book call. Too many men on the ice is usually an error by the bench and the Flyers did it twice in one game. I wished they did more on the power plays that came from Chris VandeVelde's clear high-stick to Palmieri's face and Schultz' hook off a Josefson misfire on a rush. They got nothing on them. Fortunately, Philly did pay for their on-ice/off-the-bench crimes.
Nitpicking? Maybe But...: I also liked the energy from Sergey Kalinin. He was notably up with Josefson and Jordin Tootoo instead of being with Gionta and a double-shifted forward. He busted out his move once - a power move to the side of the net for a close shot. He also was up for some potentially rewarding odd-man rushes. Every time, he forced the pass across to a covered player or someone like Gionta. I wish he would've shot it there. In time, he may do that and he may find the results. I would say he had a fine game anyway and I think he justified the move up the lines.
Reminders: Apparently, Vincent Lecavalier (who attempted one of the slower quasi-breakaway attempts I've seen), RJ Umberger, Sam Gagner, and Ryan White played tonight. I looked that up and it's true. They all played.
One Last Game Thought: Ice up, Larsson. He blocked six shots and played the last 1:11 in an 8:31 ice time in the third period alone. His icing did not help the cause, but they survived the last attack.
I Am Never Above Self Promotion: Earlier today, I can confirm that I will appear on SiriusXM's Hockey Unfiltered on Saturday before the Devils-Islanders game. The show will be hosted at Hotel Indigo's Skylab, which is right by The Rock. The show will run from 11 AM to 1 PM, so hang out there for specials, guests (like me), and so forth. My timeslot will be at 12:30 PM. If you don't have SiriusXM, then you can listen to a livestream at the Hockey Unfiltered site and/or download a recording at the site or iTunes a little later that afternoon.
Your Take: The Devils soundly beat the Flyers on the strength of three unanswered three period goals. It feels good. I feel good. You probably do. But let me know what you think about the win anyway. Who impressed you? Who could've done much better? What should the Devils take away from this game ahead of their next game against the Islanders? Do you think Philly should be known for their salt instead of cheesesteaks instead? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this 4-1 win over the Second Rate Rivals in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and/or on Twitter with @AATJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.