When it comes to games like this one, I don't care about draft positioning or anything like that. The Philadelphia Flyers are a rival of the New Jersey Devils. Regardless of the circumstances, I want to see the Devils beat their rivals. They did so back on January 3, when they dropped five straight goals on Philly and cruised to a 5-2 win. Tonight, the result was the same with a final score of 5-2. The methods were different, but still a satisfying game to witness.
The general term I would use for the performance was "non-playoff hockey." It wasn't crisp hockey. It was sluggish due to both teams making errors, being forced into turnovers, and just not getting shots through. It wasn't so sloppy that the game didn't have any pace or action to it. Players skated hard, tempers got heated, and battles for pucks were plentiful. It was mostly a game where a neutral would watch it and conclude that both teams weren't so bad that they couldn't do much, but they weren't on the level of a squad planning to play beyond April 11. As a result, the game had relatively few shots (Flyers out-shot Devils 27-21) and few attempts (Flyers out-attempted Devils 47-42 in all situations). But there wasn't a lack of excitement.
Penalties were plentiful and special teams would play a crucial role in how tonight's game turned out. The Flyers managed to get three power plays in a row, with two overlapping for a few seconds. In that near-four minute timespan, the Flyers looked their fiercest. Nobody really on Wayne Simmonds at the crease. Nobody monitoring one of the league leading scorers in Jakub Voracek. The Flyers should've converted their second power play when Carlo Colaiacovo got a killer pass from Sean Couturier. He was robbed by Keith Kinkaid (and the shot could've been better). But the Devils got out of trouble from those three power plays not only without conceding a goal, but Jacob Josefson put home a rebound off a Stephen Gionta shot to get a shorthanded goal that broke the deadlock. Kinkaid had to be at his best and those three power plays was when the Flyers took charge of the game. After they killed it off, the Devils responded and clawed their way back in terms of possession, territory, and shots.
While the Flyers grossed nothing on their power plays, the Devils would get a conversion. Their other power plays didn't yield much going forward, but they got one right. On their second power play, after Brandon Manning mugged Gionta to deny him a rebound opportunity, the Devils moved the puck effectively and found a finish when Eric Gelinas dropped The Truth on Steve Mason. That made it 3-1 near the end of the second and gave the Devils something to build on. The power play was a net zero as Eric Gelinas missed Michael Raffl cutting to the net to re-direct a Ryan White pass past Kinkaid for a shorthanded goal. By that point, the goal made it 4-2 and the Devils added to the lead to make it more of a consolation goal than a lifeline.
The other talking point from this game would likely be how the Devils gave the Flyers' defense issues. While the Devils got out-shot and out-attempted, they caused enough issues to keep the Flyers from really controlling the game except for the first half of the second period. Travis Zajac was an active forechecker, winning enough pucks to give the Flyers headaches. Players like Jacob Josefson and Scott Gomez were positive players going forward and their wingers chipped in to keep plays deep. The other three goals the Devils scored tonight featured a Flyers defender in a bad light. Adam Henrique scored his first goal after Mark Streit kicked a puck into a space in front of the crease. In the third period, off a defensive zone faceoff loss, Henrique charged at Streit and Nick Schultz to get the puck free and go off on a 2-on-0 with Steve Bernier. Yes, a 2-on-0. Henrique to Bernier to Henrique, who made it 4-1. After Sean Couturier missed half the net to make it a one-goal game, Patrik Elias saw Stephen Gionta open behind Streit and Andy MacDonald. Elias hit him with a perfect pass and Gionta finished this breakaway to make it 5-2. (Aside: he had one early in the game, but he skied the shot.) That last goal was a killer as it denied the Flyers that lifeline from Raffl's shorty while re-establishing a decisive lead. It was definitely not a good night for Streit and it's not like the other defenders on Philly looked like stars.
It wasn't like the last Devils-Flyers game where the Devils just routed the Flyers for five goals and just played out the game like it's no big deal. There was a bit more drama, plenty of beefs after whistles, and a few moments where the whole game could've played out very differently. Nevertheless, the Devils won this game by a decisive score, they scored a variety of goals, and handed a hated rival another 'L.' It feels so good to see the Devils beat down a rival, even if it wasn't similar to the last one. The Flyers were, again, proven to be the Second Rate Rivals.
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 War on Ice Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Kurt R has this recap up at Broad Street Hockey, which features this Fun Fact:
Then we saw the kind of thing that reminded us why this team has pretty much fallen out of the playoff race.
From the 9:26 mark of the second period all the way to the 2:17 mark of the third period, the Flyers failed to send a single shot attempt towards the New Jersey net. That's 12:51 of game time, all but 2:27 of which was spent at even strength.
My reaction: Heh. My longer reaction: As Kurt lamented the Devils "slowing the game down," it's worth noting that earlier in that second period, the Flyers were just moving the puck forward at will. The power plays helped a lot, but they were suddenly up 18-8 in shots at about halfway through the period. They were finding the channels to get into the Devils end, they were able to keep plays alive, and the Devils' defense wasn't breaking out well. But after the kills, the Devils' defense sorted out the latter two and the offense helped parry the Flyers' attacking ways.
The Game Highlights: This video contains a bunch of good saves by Kinkaid, a breakaway goal by Stephen Gionta, Eric Gelinas dropping the hammer, Jacob Josefson getting a shorty, and a 2-on-0 goal. Yes, you want to see this video from NHL.com. Here it is:
Surprising Start: I was surprised to see Keith Kinkaid get this start. It's not a part of a back-to-back. It's not like Cory Schneider was killed on Friday. I guess it could be seen as a "white flag" of sorts. Though is it more than a pairing of Eric Gelinas and Mark Fraser or Jordin Tootoo on an offensive line? Anyway, Kinkaid was in and he was very good. He made a number of tough stops, including some post-to-post denials on Flyers shots. The two goals that beat him weren't really his fault. Ryan White got a piece of a Luke Schenn shot off a defensive zone draw to make it 1-1. The shorthanded goal came off a one-touch play by a wide open Raffl. Those are tough situations for any goalie. Overall, I was pleased with how Kinkaid performed. I'm sure he was thrilled that he made it through the game and that his legs held up with the handful of stretching saves he had to make. I wonder if we'll see more of him in non-back-to-back situations going forward. I think that would be fine.
Returning to Form: Jon Merrill was contentious with the puck early, but he got better as time went on. I really liked how Damon Severson looked today. He kept up with what was going on, he didn't attempt to do too much, and he handled his competition. The pairing did very well against Sean Couturier, Matt Read, and Wayne Simmonds. I rarely noticed Simmonds outside of the power play. Couturier had that big miss in the third period, a penalty and not much else. Read apparently had four shots on net, but I can't recall any of them that gave Kinkaid real trouble. I was pleased by the pairing in general. I also liked Merrill getting four shots on net; while Severson didn't get any through, it's heartening to see at least half the pairing put multiple shots on frame. I'm hopeful this is a sign that Severson is at least a little closer to where he was; and that he can form a good pairing with Merrill. That would strengthen the defense as it is.
I Get Tweets and This One Is Worth Sharing: I run the @InLouWeTrust account for a majority of game days. Sometimes, I'll get a good point in less than 140 characters. From @crash_land, I got this after Gelinas' goal:
@InLouWeTrust Gelinas would be the best PP defenseman if the puck never left the offensive zone— Brian Werner (@crash_land) March 8, 2015
Brian turned out to be right. Just look at the shorthanded goal the Devils conceded. Or look at the other power plays where #22 had to lead the breakout. Gelinas has a great shot. Everything else is contentious. I openly wonder whether the Devils should have a more traditional power play formation than the 1-3-1 when Gelinas is out there. Like the Flyers do when they don't have Giroux, Voracek, and Simmonds out there. This way another defenseman (Greene? Larsson?) can lead a breakout and Gelinas can really focus on dropping The Truth. It might make the Devils more than just one-and-done on power plays, which we've seen in recent games. It's a thought.
Who's the Impressive Forward?: Plenty of arguments to be made on who was the most impressive forward for the Devils tonight. Adam Henrique only had the two shots, but he scored on both. His speed made those goals possible and it was good to see him use it. He nearly picked up an assist when Travis Zajac left the box for a 2-on-1; only for Zajac to hit the post. (Aside: I liked Zajac and Gomez tonight on their own.) I'd just like to see him use it more. Steve Bernier picked up three assists, always a good thing to see. Jacob Josefson put up three shots, including that backhander shorthanded goal. He took quite a bit of punishment tonight, but he kept going in light of it. He's far more effective when he's able to make something happen on offense as opposed to just being an "energy" guy. Likewise, Stephen Gionta drew a penalty that led to a power play goal and he finished his second breakaway of the night to close out the game. Always a good amount of production for someone playing limited minutes. I don't think there was any one forward that was dominant, just a bunch of players who did well. And that may be preferable. When there are multiple contributors, it can lead to results like this one.
Ow: Peter Harrold was used as a winger tonight. I think his biggest contribution was getting hit a lot. Hopefully, he's OK from all of those hits. What surprised me was that he got into somebody's grill after a whistle in the third. That's how heated the game got; even Harrold had a beef.
Blooper: Claude Giroux gave The Rock a good laugh when he wound up for a one-timer in the high slot in the third period, whiffed, and fell down. I suppose that's a good visual as any to sum up Giroux's night and perhaps the Flyers in general.
Lame: Zajac's interference call was a particularly weak call. He did whack at Chris VandeVelde's stick as the Devils were exiting the zone. But it was light contract. VandeVelde dropped his stick and rose his hands as if some great injustice was done. I know it's technically against the rules, but usually what leads to that kind of call is if the stick is broken or if the infractor savagely hit the stick. Neither happened. It was a lame call. Thankfully, it didn't lead to much though it would've been too sweet if Zajac scored on the 2-on-1 after the kill - alas, he hit the post.
1995 Honored: Prior to the game, the 1995 Stanley Cup Champions were honored. All but four players made an appearance, skated onto the ice, lined up around the center circle, listened to Scott Stevens say a few words, posed for a team photo, and did a victory lap. The coaches, trainers, and even the employees (at intermission) were also honored. Everyone got an ovation; I'd say Martin Brodeur and Stevens got the biggest ones. It was a very cool scene. And it got the crowd amped up for a rivalry game. Thankfully, the 2014-15 Devils didn't disappoint them or the crowd.
Right, Again: By the way, I think this game also justifies Eric Tlusky's point about how starting goaltenders on back-to-back nights is usually a bad bet. Poor, poor Steve Mason. Not that Schultz-Streit, among others, helped him much.
Lastly: There were a few Flyers fans that made the trip up to the Rock. They made some noise early on, such as after White's deflection and throughout the first period. But they were curiously quiet as time went on. Wonder why.
Your Take: The Devils beat the Second Rate Rivals again 5-2. I found it to be a fun game, despite the sloppy play of both teams. What did you think of it? What was your favorite part of the game? Who do you think was the best Devil? Who could have done better? What can the Devils take from this game before they hit the road for this week? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.