Preseason results ultimately don't matter. The moment the game ends on Friday, you can pretend all of these wins and losses never really happened. They won't count anymore. That said, it's always good for a team to beat a rival under any circumstance. The New Jersey Devils struggled in the first third of the game - except for the first five minutes or so - but ultimately rose up to beat the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-2. They turned a 1-2 deficit after the first twenty minutes into 3-2 after the second twenty. An empty net goal was tacked on to ice it as the Flyers failed to respond. The Devils even took the 3-on-3 overtime exhibition with a quasi-empty net goal. While the main goal of these games is to get ready for the regular season, winning isn't a bad way of going about it.
The main concern from this game has to do with what happened within it. Kyle Palmieri was heavily featured to the start, but he left the game in the second period with an apparent injury. Eric Gelinas and Stephen Gionta appeared to be shaken up at points, though they stayed active. The hope is that any injuries picked up for anyone are minor. Whether you want to see the Devils attempt to be competitive or not, Palmieri being out is rather problematic for a team that's lacking at right wing - especially for the top-six.
While that's something to worry a bit about, there's plenty of positive takeaways from this game. The start was great with Damon Severson setting up Palmieri only to be robbed and Severson setting up Tuomo Ruutu off the rush for a goal minutes later. The Devils really got hemmed in their own half of the rink for most of the first period, but they found ways to beat that in the following periods. They took three penalties in that first period and suffered with a goal allowed in a 3-on-5 situation to Wayne Simmonds. Then the Devils took none for the rest of the game. As Flyers got sloppy with the puck, they were more on-point to respond, draw some calls, and got some attack time out of it - as well as two empty net goals. As a warm-up game for the regular season, this was not at all bad. If the news comes out that Palmieri will be OK as well as the others visibly shaken up in the game, then mark it as a win in that regard.
The Opposition Opinion: At Broad Street Hockey, Charlie O'Conner called the game a "snoozer" in his recap. Well, that is Typical Philadelphia these days, right?
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are your highlights from tonight's game. Including a game winner by Travis Zajac.
Who Looked Good Among NHL Veterans?: There were plenty of Devils expected to be New Jersey Devils that looked good tonight. The standout in my eyes was Travis Zajac. He scored the go-ahead goal that was a weak one for Michal Neuvirth to allow. Not coincidentally, Jason LaBarbera entered the game in the third period. After a stunning miss on an empty net by Stephen Gionta, Zajac turned into an OK-to-laugh-at moment when he took a puck from Mark Streit and slid it in to seal the win. Zajac played quite a bit, played in all situations, and was noticeable in a good way on most shifts.
But there's so much more than just Zajac. Keith Kinkaid had a solid, fundamental game in the crease. Palmieri was good when he was able to play, as he has been all preseason. Jiri Tlusty looked real good. He drew two calls and displayed good stickhandling skills. He was helpful for the offense. Defense, well, he got penned back but that was an issue shared by some of his linemates. Adam Henrique looked solid; he re-directed an excellent slap-pass from Palmieri for the Devils' lone PPG of the night. Like Zajac, Henrique played a lot in all situations and did quite well. Jacob Josefson had a real nice game. He played over seventeen and a half minutes, picked up two assists, and intercepted a bad,m bold decision by Damon Severson helped the Flyers score their first goal - a re-direction by Chris Porter on a Michael Del Zotto shot - but he also helped the play go forward a lot. Severson reminded anyone who forgot that he can jump up on offense as well make good passes to get out of the zone and on offense. That error was made up for with strong play later on.
Who Looked Good Among Non-NHL Players?: I hope the Devils sign Lee Stempniak. He was very good in both ends tonight. He very nearly scored early on tonight, he nearly broke away in the second period, and he just put in more and more good work as the game went on. He earned that 3-on-3 OT time with Zajac and I hope he earns a deal very soon. Reid Boucher also stood out with his passing and his movement off the puck. He'll never be a great defender, but he was able to help more on offense with how he skated about away from the play. Like Josefson, Zajac, etc., he played quite a lot and it went fairly well. That's good for him going forward.
Who Didn't Look So Good Among NHL Players?: This is a bit mean but David Schlemko looked a lot like he was making his preseason debut tonight. He had a real rough first period. His low point was obvious: he tried to cross-check Simmonds in front of the net on a penalty kill and his stick flung up and hit Brayden Schenn high for a penalty. The ensuing 3-on-5 yielded a goal. I will say he played better as the game went on. He surprisingly got a lot of power play time, too. I think Schlemko will be fine in time, he just needs the minutes to get going. He should get them on Friday.
Who Didn't Look So Good Among Non-NHL Players?: Stefan Matteau annoyed me with an avoidable tripping call late in the first period. He was forechecking and just got his stick in there. But like a lot of Devils, after that event, he did a bit better as the game went. A more consistently poor Devil tonight was Seth Helgeson. He struggled the most among the defensemen when the Flyers attacked and were able to stay in New Jersey's end. Sure, Eric Gelinas as a defensive partner doesn't help but Helgeson's lack of speed in terms of skating and decision making was apparent. At least he didn't take a penalty and he did register a shot on net, but what you saw from Helgeson tonight is what you'd get. A guy who's going to play a lot in his own end and contribute very little otherwise.
Who'd You Cut If You Had to Cut?: Based on tonight and assuming no one is going on injured reserve, I'd still send Pavel Zacha back to juniors. Helgeson would easily go back to Albany as well as Helgeson and Gragnani. I wouldn't keep Tyler Kennedy on because I don't think he's really better than Sergey Kalinin. I don't think Zacha or Kalinin were bad tonight, they were OK. But since the decision is coming up, that's what I would make if it were up to me. And, yes, I'd sign Stempniak. If they're active, I'd expect some or all of these players to play on Friday just to get a last chance.
The OT Exhibition: The Devils really bossed the Flyers in the exhibition after the exhibition game. The Flyers had one or two attacks, whereas the Devils had several strong plays. Zajac, Stempniak, Henrique, Tlusty (hit the frame!), and Severson all nearly ended it. The 3-on-3 ended with a bad decision. Adam Larsson's stick was broken, but the Devils were able to get a clear. Larsson headed to the bench so LaBarbera negated the icing and attempted a long pass up-ice. Josefson took it and finished the game. In two words: womp womp.
Bad? Boring?: Yeah, the Flyers didn't have a strong game after controlling more of the first period. So it was fitting the crowd only really got up when A) there was a goal, B) the Flyers took a penalty, and C) the Flyers failed to equalize and conceded an empty netter. Sure, they were mostly booing but a negative reaction is better than a muted reaction. Which is what the Flyers got a lot of based on the broadcast.
Lastly: Empty nets aren't gimmies. Gionta learned that lesson the hard way.
Your Take: The Devils won, plenty of players looked good, and we're crossing our fingers that Palmieri isn't hurt.