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Game Preview #56: New Jersey Devils at Philadelphia Flyers

Rivalry month continues with the Devils traveling down the Turnpike to play against those Second Rate Rivals this afternoon. Both teams sit on the edge of playoff contention, and both desperately need a win to improve their position within division.

Cheering at Wells Fargo is good.
Cheering at Wells Fargo is good.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The 56th game of the year, taking place in the midst of rivalry month, will see the New Jersey Devils traveling down the Turnpike to play the Second Rate Rivals from Philadelphia on a brutally cold Saturday afternoon.

The Time: 1:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - WFAN 660 AM and 101.9 FM

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (27-21-7) vs. the Philadelphia Flyers (24-20-9, SBN: Broad Street Hockey)

The Last Devils Game: On Marty night this past Tuesday, the Devils played the 2nd game of a back-to-back, this one against the Edmonton Oilers.  It was a must win for a couple reasons.  The first was because of the standings.  With the Metropolitan Division in the log jam that it is, the Devils need to continue to win and get points to remain in playoff contention.  The second reason, of course, was because winning was the only proper way to salute the winningest goaltender of all time, Martin Brodeur.  While I would love to discuss the ceremony here (it was excellent and emotional in person), the game was how the Devils needed to play it.  Edmonton might be one of the worse teams in the league, but they have some stellar forwards who can light up the lamp on any given night.  However, the Devils completely shut them down.  Edmonton finished the game with only 20 shots on goal, and Cory Schneider was able to stop 19 of them.  Adam Henrique put the Devils up on top first with a rebound on a power play.  Jordan Eberle would tie the game up just over a minute later on a sick pass through the zone that no Devil could touch.  Schneider had no chance once it hit Eberle's stick.  The game would remain tied and very tight, with minimal events taking place throughout the rest of the game.  Thankfully, the Devils' special teams was on point.  The game winning goal was also a power play goal, the team's second of the night.  Earlier on the power play Jacob Josefson had a surefire goal when the puck squeaked to him through the zone, but he fanned on the shot.  Reid Boucher would try to outdo Josefson in terms of futility by tripping over his own skates and falling face first, but he would recover mightily by getting the puck all alone on the right side and sniping one past Cam Talbot top shelf.  NJ would take a 2-1 lead and would own it the rest of the game.  Edmonton could just not get many attempts on net, and events remained low.  The Devils would end up with 39 Corsi events for, while Edmonton had 32.  Cory and the Devils would win 2-1, and hand the Devils a huge victory on a celebratory and nostalgic night.  Since we did not have a recap up, here is the link to the recap on with links to all the stat pages we usually have up as well as the highlight video, and here is the Natural Stat Trick page with advanced stats. 

The Last Flyers Game: On Thursday night, the Flyers entertained the Buffalo Sabres.  The game started out close.  It was 0-0 through the first, and Buffalo had the much better run of play.  They had 14 shots after the first as opposed to Philadelphia's 6, and nearly scored when a shot banked off of the post and then Steve Mason's helmet.  But as it often is when your team has the better run of play but does not score, bad things will start to happen.  And for Buffalo, they did.  The Flyers would tilt the ice towards their favor in the second, and unlike the Sabres, they would find twine often.  They would score twice in the first 2:11, and four times overall in the period.  They would only outshoot Buffalo 14-10, but four goals would be more than Buffalo could handle, although you cannot say the Sabres did not try to come back.  Score effects were a huge deal in the third, with the Sabres posting 17 shots on net while Philly only mustered 8.  However, when your team is up by 4 goals, that is how things tend to go.  Both teams would get a goal in the third, and the Flyers would win 5-1.  It was a much needed win for Philly after giving away their game against the Rangers and then losing to Washington before getting smacked around by Anaheim.  A losing streak by anyone in the middle of the Metro would mean death, and Philly avoided that on Thursday (sadly).  Over at Broad Street Hockey, Travis Hughes had this recap.

The Last Devils-Flyers Game: Back on December 4th, the Devils played host to Philly.  It was a very poorly played game by the Devils, who did not play all that well at the Rock in the 2015 portion of this year's schedule.  It was a low event game, but not because the Devils were forcing that style of hockey on Philly.  Instead, it was because the Devils simply could not get anything going.  The final score would be 3-4 Flyers in overtime, but the relatively high number of goals in the game was not because of a fast, attacking pace.  It was just that a high percentage of the low number of shot attempts actually went in.  The Devils looked like they would lose the game, doing absolutely nothing in the third period, but Michael Cammalleri would manage to score with a minute to go while on the power play to force overtime.  Matt Read would score the game winner in overtime, and it would be the first 3 on 3 goal that the Devils would allow this season.  Pre-flu John had the recap here.

The Goal: Win.  Ok, I know that this section is supposed to be about a key to winning the game, but I want to preface it with this fairly obvious statement.  The Metropolitan is jam packed in the middle right now.  The Rangers are doing their part by winning recently, as are Pittsburgh and the Islanders.  If the Devils want to keep pace, they cannot slow down.  That loss against the Rangers on Monday was a big blow, but winning Tuesday kept the team alive.  Philadelphia is right on New Jersey's back, and a win today is absolutely necessary if the Devils are looking to produce a bigger gap between themselves and the bottom of the division while simultaneously keeping pace with the teams above them.  The Devils are handicapped at this point as they have played the most of anyone in the Metro, Columbus not counting.  You have to assume that at least some of those teams will win their games in hand, which means that NJ needs to build a cushion.  Winning four point games will do that, and this is certainly a four point game.

The Goal Part Deux: Play like you did against Edmonton.  The shootout losses to Toronto and Washington were partly caused by the Devils not playing their brand of "boring" hockey.  However, they completely shut down a pretty good offensive team in Edmonton, and that needs to happen again.  Keep events low, play the style that Brodeur wrote about that opposing fans hate.  Philadelphia isn't as high flying as Edmonton, but they are ranked 17th in the league in Corsi events for this year.  Of course, the Devils are dead last.  If NJ can work to bridge that gap and keep events even, it would be a huge benefit and it would give the team a strong chance to leave Wells Fargo with points.  Now I know that the last time these two played, the Devils lost in a low event game, but that game was not low event because the Devils dictated play.  It was the exact opposite.  The Devils need to force the play to be low event, not have that forced upon them.  If that can happen, things can go well.

Great Goaltending Matchup? This game may feature one of the better goaltending matchups you will see in the NHL this year, depending on what happens in Philly.  Starting with the obvious, Cory Schneider should be a Vezina finalist with the way he has played.  If you're reading this, I'm assuming you know how good he is so I won't go too much further.  If you aren't aware...he is fourth in the league in save percentage amongst goalies with at least 20 starts, he's 2nd amongst goalies with at least 30 starts, and he has the best percentage amongst goalies with at least 40 starts.

On the other side of the ice, my awesome goaltending matchup becomes true if Michal Neuvirth comes back from a lower body injury to make the start.  He has a better save percentage than Schneider at .933, but only has 21 starts for his team.  He has been dynamite in net this season, posting an 11-6-2 record for a Philadelphia team that was not expected to be all that good this year. If he cannot go, however, we will see Steve Mason.  If that happens, the goaltending matchup tilts into NJ's favor.  Mason has not been terrible, with a .917 save percentage and 3 shutouts to boot, but he still has been much more average as compared to both Schneider and Neuvirth.  His 13-14-7 record for his team is not nearly as good, and it is why he will most likely backup Neuvirth once the latter is fully healthy.

Their Squad: The Flyers have a dynamite top line in Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds.  Voracek started off the year very poorly, even being relegated to fourth line duties at one point, but he has gotten much more back to his normal self once the calendar turned over.  Giroux is one of the best top line centers in the game, and Simmonds is, well, Simmonds.  He can park himself in front of the net and frustrate opposing goaltenders all night, and he can also concuss opposing teams' captains.  You know the deal.

After them, the forward corps does not look overly spectacular.  The only other name to really look out for is Brayden Schenn, who does have 30 points in 55 games.  After that, there is a noticeable gap.  Sean Couturier would go a long way to improving their second line, but he is out.  Instead, you're looking at the likes of Sam Gagner and R.J. Umberger, who finally scored his first goal of the season on Thursday night.

Their defense has improved this season in terms of its offensive capabilities, thanks to the emergence of rookie Shayne Gostisbehere.  He currently plays on their top pairing along with former first rounder Michael Del Zotto.  They also have Mark Streit who helps to bring that veteran presence to their blue line.  Overall, it is a team that is not overly deep, but if their big names are on point, they could be tough to play against.

The Importance of Special Teams: Recently, it seems that the Devils win or lose based on how their special teams is playing.  They beat the Rangers a week and a half ago thanks to special teams, and it was a major factor again against Edmonton.  However, the power play was awful against Toronto, and it led to a shootout loss there.  Philadelphia has a poor special teams overall, ranking 23rd in the league on the man advantage with a 17.7% conversion rate, and ranks 22nd when down a man, thanks to a 79.3% kill rate.  The Devils are much better overall, coming in at 7th on the power play with a 20.3% conversion rate, and 8th on the kill with a 83% success rate.  This is something that New Jersey absolutely has to exploit.  Power plays need to be converted, and penalty kill time needs to be killed off smoothly.  If this can happen, there is a good chance that the Devils can win this game.  If they have an off night on special teams, however, then it gives Philadelphia a much bigger advantage than we would like.

Your Take: While today's game is not an easy one—rivalry games never are—it is one that the Devils can have if they take advantage of their opportunities.  What do you think will happen?  Do you think the Devils have a good shot?  What do you feel they need to do to pull off a victory?  Please leave your comments in the section below, and thanks for reading.