The Stanley Cup will be at The Rock today. You know, Flyers fans, the Cup. That thing the Flyers haven't won since 1975. It'll be there so you can be familiar with what it looks like.
The Time: 5:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (27-28-10) vs. the Philadelphia Flyers (28-25-13; SBN Blog: Broad Street Hockey)
The Last Devils Game: The Devils hosted Columbus on Friday night and it didn't go very well for the Devils. They were very sluggish in the first period. While the Blue Jackets didn't light them up like they did in the first period from their previous encounter, they got something better: a goal. Justin Falk sent a shot through traffic over distance that beat Cory Schneider high. Columbus finally beat Schneider. They would do so again in the second period when Patrik Elias committed a horrid turnover that sent Nick Foligno and Brandon Dubinsky off to the races. Dubinsky got ahead, got the puck, and got a goal in his first game back from a concussion. The Devils would cut the lead to one when they converted a power play; Adam Henrique set up Jordin Tootoo for the finish with a no-look backhand pass. Alas, the Blue Jackets restored the two goal lead when no one picked up Marko Dano in the zone. Alexander Wennberg won a puck to get it to him and Dano had the time and space to pick his spot. He picked correctly to make it 1-3. The Devils seemed out of place until, out of nowhere, Peter Harrold made an excellent play to beat Falk and then Sergei Bobrovsky for a goal. The crowd got up and excited. But the Devils would only put up four shots (and hit one post) in the ensuing thirteen minutes. The Devils lost 2-3. Here's my recap of the game.
The Last Flyers Game: The Flyers visited Boston in a huge game for their dwindling playoff hopes. It didn't start off particularly well when Zdeno Chara scored to convert an early power play in the first period. It didn't help that Michael Del Zotto left the first period with an apparent injury. However, Del Zotto would return for the second period. And the Flyers tied the game up when Jakub Voracek continued his bid to be an Art Ross contender with a power play goal. The Flyers took it to the Bruins a bit more in the third period and they got rewarded when Nick Schultz, of all players, scored with under five minutes to play. A late penalty kill was almost successful - until Brad Marchand got a piece of a Dougie Hamilton shot to tie it up with fifteen seconds left. Overtime ensued until Brad Marchand turned Michael Del Zotto inside out and beat Mason to win it. It was 2-3 OT loss for a team that needed a regulation win. Check out this recap by Kevin Christmann at Broad Street Hockey for an opinion about the game.
The Last Devils-Flyers Game: The Devils hosted Philadelphia on January 3. That proverbial new coach smell was still smelling rosy. What transpired only stoked the good feelings. The Flyers were poor to start and eventually, the Devils struck and struck hard. It began with Ray Emery softly playing a puck behind his net. Adam Henrique picked it off, got it up to Jaromir Jagr, who put it into the empty net at a sharp angle. Minutes later, Martin Havlat fed Patrik Elias across the slot for a wide-open one-timer to convert a power play. In the dying seconds of the period, Jagr took advantage of Mark Streit whiffing on a puck, got around him, and beat Emery to make it 3-0. Steve Mason took over in net and the night didn't get better for Philadelphia. Scott Gomez fired in a shot on a 4-on-2 to make it 4-0. Gomez would hook Jagr up in front for a close shot that just got into the net. That was Jagr's third; he got a hat trick to make it 5-0. From that point on, the Devils cruised to victory. Andy MacDonald and Vincent Lecavalier scored, but those were consolation goals. The Devils won 5-2 and I called it one of the more enjoyable wins of the season in my recap. For the opposition's perspective, Kurt R at Broad Street Hockey was unhappy.
The Goal: Press the issue in possession, not in terms of physicality. The Philadelphia Flyers aren't the Broad Street Bullies of the 1970s, but they have plenty of large, beefy players who will probably win a lot of battles if the game comes down to physical play. The Devils beat down the Flyers on January 3 because they were better at moving the puck, they did so right from the beginning of the game, and their pressure with the puck gave their defense issues. The Flyers' strength remains at forward, not on defense - and the Flyers traded two defenders away by the Trade Deadline. The Devils aren't going to succeed if they want to get someone's grill, they will if they force the likes of Andrew MacDonald, Nick Schultz, and Nicklas Grossmann to play well under pressure.
These Flyers: Seriously, look at the chart of their defensemen at War on Ice. This team was in a better position than the Devils for an unlikely attempt for the playoffs, and what do they do? They decide to trade Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen. While Timonen is old and did not play a game yet this season due to blood clots, he was very close to returning and for years has been the stud on the Flyers blueline. He's moved. Coburn was someone playing against tough competition at evens and was doing fairly well. Much better than Schultz. Surely a more palatable option than Grossmann or even Michael Del Zotto. Players like that are important as the games become more important. He's moved. While the possession numbers for the group aren't that bad; they have histories of being poor enough in their own end that they're worth challenging. At least Carlo Colaiacovo has looked good in recent games; yet I think it's fair to say the Flyers got weaker on defense after March 2. Don't take my word for it, though, Just check out the analysis by Ryan Gilbert at Broad Street Hockey of the defensemen individually and in pairings.
But wait! There's more drama! While going through Broad Street Hockey to see the reactions of the team moving two good defenders, Travis Hughes posted yesterday that their goalie coach has stepped down. This is an odd thing to do in the middle of the season. Apparently, from this post by Kurt R at BSH on the next day, Jeff Reese was looking out for Steve Mason and that led to issues when it came to Mason's use. I don't see how this is a good thing. Mason has had an excellent season so far, with an astounding 93.7% save percentage at even strength. It may be moot for today as Mason started against Boston. Instead, the Devils may get Ray Emery, who has had a less astounding save percentage at evens and an even worse one in penalty kill situations.
So will the Flyers make it into the postseason? It's going to be real tough given that their defense is weaker and the coach that got along well with the starting goaltender is gone. They still have a talented set of forwards as any in the league. As a team, per War on Ice, they're just below 50% in Corsi and they're not crazy low or high in terms of shooting or save percentages. Their special teams are two-faced: a very successful power play (22.7% conversion rate, third in the NHL before the Boston game) and a very leaky penalty kill (76.7% success rate, third worst in the NHL before the Boston game). They're going to need help and quick if they want to sneak in, but I don't think it'll be enough. Likewise, they're not going to be bad enough to drop into a better playoff position. They are where I think they should be. Funnily enough, this in a season where the Flyers are getting a legitimately good season out of Steve Mason.
The Threat Up Front: In a season where many of the top scorers in the league have been beset by injury, the Art Ross trophy winner isn't going to have a ton of points. It's still a laudable achievement to be among the league's leading scorers. Just ask Jakub Voracek. Prior to the Boston game, he was one point behind tying three others for the league's lead in scoring. He already set season-highs for his career with forty-six assists and 65 points. He'll only need four more goals to reach 24, which will be another season-high for him. Given that he's got 160 shots on net already, I wouldn't doubt him making that happen. Voracek has been having an amazing season for Philadelphia and he's doing it all while driving the play against tough competition (albeit with favorable zone starts). Whenever he's on, the Devils need to be fully aware of where he is on the ice.
For most of this season, he was alongside Claude Giroux. However, they were on separate lines for the Boston game. That could present match-up issues for the Devils as Giroux is an excellent player in his own right. He's been Philadelphia's most talented forward for years and he's up there in scoring as well. He's got eighteen goals, forty-three assists, and an impressive 230 shots on net. Often times, it's a matter of when Giroux makes his mark on a game, not a matter of if.
The Flyers are more than a two-man team up front. Wayne Simmonds is the prototypical "If he was on your team, you'd love him" player. He's big, strong, a force by the crease on power plays, and a scorer. He leads Philadelphia in goals with 26 - half of them coming on the power play. Based on Left Wing Lock's information, he was skating with Giroux and Michael Raffl, a useful winger who has fifteen goals out of 101 shots prior to Saturday's game. Voracek was with Sean Couturier and Matt Read, two quick, two-way players who can each chip in on offense. Beyond them, there's Brayden Schenn and not a lot else. R.J. Umberger has had a disappointing season, guys like Chris VandeVelde and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare are fourth liners, and Zac Rinaldo is a jerk but not one that can score or set up plays or defend.
Ultimately, the biggest threats for the Devils in this game will be the Flyers power play and those top two lines, which feature many players who are killers on that power play. (Plus, Mark Streit, who's been piling up the points from the blueline). Giroux and Voracek apart makes it difficult to suggest who should get who. Knowing that Damon Severson is still trying to get back into form and the Devils forwards are a menagerie of unknowns when it comes to match-ups adds to the difficulty. Assuming the Flyers keep the same lines from the Boston game, I would suggest Andy Greene and Adam Larsson to go against Giroux, Raffl, and Simmonds with Severson and Jon Merrill having to hold their own with Couturier, Read, and Voracek. The Zajac line should probably get the Giroux line, while the Gomez line gets Couturier. The remainder can handle the other's remainder, I hope.
Status Quo After A Loss: Based on Tom Gulitti's report from practice on Saturday, the Devils do not appear to be making any changes in their roster from Friday's loss. I get that there's only so much room and few good options, but no changes? Peter Harrold may be playing like a Legitimate Fourth Line Energy Winger, but I'd rather have him back on defense than Mark Fraser. As it stands, we're going to see Eric Gelinas and Fraser together again and I don't know who really wants that at all. Hopefully, the co-coaches won't give them a match-up against speedy players like they did on Friday night. Surely, Martin Havlat or Michael Ryder can step in so Harrold can go back to defense.
Further, why is there no rotation for Dainius Zubrus? I know Havlat and Ryder would be going off-wing, but it's not like the Lithuanian Freight Train has been doing much of anything to remain having a regular spot without question.
In any case, with no apparent changes to the Devils skaters, I can only imagine there's no change in net. Not that there's any reason to believe Cory Schneider won't start as it's a game on a non-consecutive day. I hope Friday's game served notice to the skaters that, no, Schneider can't make all of the bail-out saves and be near-perfect. Will they play better because of that fact? Who knows, but this season would suggest it's unlikely.
On Net: The Devils really need to make their attempts count tonight. They actually out-attempted Columbus on Friday. The line of Scott Gomez, Adam Henrique, and Steve Bernier had an awesome night from that standpoint. Yet the double-digit attempt differential only yielded a small shot differential. Other lines, like the Zajac line, had it rough but they nearly generated the same amount of offense that required a goalie to make a save. The Devils should make a point of it of trying to get their shots through to the net. Having them blocked or miss entirely may speak to them having the puck, but it will only lead to little on the board and make it easier for the opposition to retrieve the puck and go forward.
Lastly: The doors to the Rock will open early to allow many to get in advance of the team honoring the 1995 Stanley Cup winning Devils team. Per Gulitti, the doors will be open at 3:30, the ceremony will begin at 5, and the game should start just before 5:30. Make your plans accordingly.
Your Take: The Devils will host the Flyers. Will it be a repeat of what happened on January 3? Will it be a more even game? Will the Flyers enact revenge in a big way? Who on the Devils do you think needs to have a strong game tonight? Can the Devils get a result over a hated rival? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.