Welcome back to preseason hockey. There's 25 skaters in camp and 21 spots to fill. Needless to say, these games will be more important to some of those 25 than it is to others.
The Time: 7:00 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+
The Last Devils Game: The Devils hosted the Rangers on Saturday night at the Rock. The performance by the Devils was better than the other four preseason games. The results were not as kind. Reid Boucher deflecting a shot got the Devils on the board first. Raphael Diaz provided an equalizer eight seconds into a power play. Diaz capitalized again on a power play, converting during a two man advantage later in the second. Stefan Matteau jammed in a puck in 5-on-3 late in the second period to make it 2-2. A shot by Kyle Palmieri went off a defenseman and past Henrik Lundqvist to make it 3-2 early in the third. Derek Stepan provided a response when he fired a one-timer from a pass (or a defense) of a Chris Kreider rush. Alas, Cory Schneider had another miscue at playing the puck, passing it around his net. The puck hit off a broken stick on the ice, leaving a lay-up for Stepan to make it 3-4. The Devils tried to equalize but could not. They at least did win the 3-on-3 OT demonstration, thanks to the Rangers taking a too many men on the ice call and Eric Gelinas blasting a shot in. My recap of the game is here.
The Last Flyers Game: On Monday, the Flyers took on the Rangers. Alas, a meteor did not hit the arena. The Flyers got on the board first and second. Mark Streit sent a slap shot into the net in the first period. Wayne Simmonds put home a power play goal late in the second period. All was well, right? Well, no. The penalties began to mount in the second, but they really erupted in the third as the game got nasty. The Rangers also got revenge on the scoreboard when Dan Girardi got the Rangers on the board early and Chris Kreider tied it up late in the third. Overtime was necessary and it would count. Keith Yandle made it count with a penalty shot goal of all things. The Flyers lost 2-3 and according to Charlie O'Connor's recap at Broad Street Hockey, they lost some players to injuries.
The Bubble: With more skaters than there are spots, some tough decisions will have to be made soon. From who was left remaining after Sunday's cuts, those on the proverbial bubble are: Marc-Andre Gragnani, Seth Helgeson, Pavel Zacha, Lee Stempniak, Tyler Kennedy, Sergey Kalinin, Reid Boucher, and Stefan Matteau. While I think Boucher and Matteau have the "inside" track given their waiver status, it's an open question as to how they fit in. Likewise, Gragnani and Helgeson may not be long for the roster once David Schlemko gets going. So this bubble may be smaller than it looks. Still, these are the players that have the most to gain from playing rather well tonight and/or Friday against Philly. If they play, then pay attention to them more than the others.
The Potential Debut & Some Guesses As to Who's Playing Tonight: Tom Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice on Monday that David Schlemko was suffering from a minor groin strain and hopes to get in some games. I think he will, though it's an open question as to whether it's tonight, Friday, or both.
A full roster has not yet been announced for this game, though a few things are known after Tuesday's practice. Gulitti confirmed on Tuesday that Keith Kinkaid is expected to start this game with Cory Schneider playing in the preseason finale. With no other goalies on the roster, I expect both of them to play the whole game. In that same post, Mike Cammalleri was held out for "maintenance reasons," so I doubt he'd be thrust into a preseason game a day after. Gulitti's report from Tuesday's practice identified the following working on the power play.
Up front: Reid Boucher/Tyler Kennedy-Travis Zajac-Jiri Tlusty. Points: Eric Gelinas-David Schlemko.
Stefan Matteau/Adam Henrique-Jacob Josefson-Jordin Tootoo. Points: Kyle Palmieri-Damon Severson.
I would guess most, if not all, of these players would likely play tonight. There's not enough bodies in camp to just have players drill for the sake of drilling. Further, it wouldn't make much sense to have players practice their power play the day before a game and then be idle for the game. With preseason coming to a close - this is the penultimate game for New Jersey - it's imperative for the coaches to begin forming who will start the season in these roles. By my eye, what Gulitti saw includes who I would expect to be the top six forwards; it includes Schlemko, who needs some kind of action to get ready for the season; and it includes some bubble players. I think this suggests a stronger line up than what was seen in last week's games, so I think guessing this could be part of tonight's roster makes some sense. It's not a full roster, but it is something to expect.
A Bit About The Opponent: According to this article by Brian Smith at Philadelphia's official website, Michal Neuvirth is the expected starter for the Flyers tonight. Additionally, per Smith's article, Michael Raffl and Sean Couturier have suffered some injuries as of late and the hope is that they'll be ready for Friday's game. I would not expect them to play tonight.
As far as the Flyers' lineup goes, tonight's game is their penultimate preseason game as well. According to the end of this article by Jeff Neiburg at Philly.com, the Flyers want to cut their roster down to 23 before Friday's game. They have 26 now, so whoever is on their bubble may get their last chance to hang on tonight. I'm not as familiar with Philadelphia's roster as I am with the Devils, so I won't speculate as to who that is. But if you see someone somewhat unfamiliar in orange and black play with a little more pace, a little more intensity, and a little more focus than most, then it may be a safe bet they're making their closing statement to stay on the team.
Your Take: Keep an eye out online tomorrow morning for news of full lineups for this game. Who do you want to see on the Devils tonight? Who do you want to see do well among those fighting to make the NHL roster? What do you expect to see in general in this game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.