On Monday night, a split-squad New Jersey Devils team was stronger on paper and on the ice against a split-squad Philadelphia Flyers team. They won 2-0. Tonight, a not-split but mostly-Albany Devils squad took on a not-split but mostly Lehigh Valley Phantoms squad. The Devils did not prevail. After a decent-to-good start, their play decayed as time went on. The Flyers got their acts together and earned a 2-0 win of their own.
The start was actually not bad. The Devils were able to apply more pressure, establish a forecheck, and make goaltender Anthony Stolarz sweat for the first ten to fifteen minutes of the game. But as the first period was fading, the Flyers were able to connect a few more passes and get into New Jersey’s end with speed. Travis Konecny was an early highlight who performed like he deserved a spotlight as the game entered the second period. Konecny was making plays, darting about, and giving every Devils defender a headache. His line with Brayden Schenn and Michael Raffl would end up dominating the Devils as well as providing the goals. Konecny was bodied by Jon Merrill but his stick was free to tip an Andrew MacDonald blast for the game’s first goal. A little later, Raffl set up Konecny clear across the slot that he should have scored on; the Devils’ saving grace was the crossbar. Minutes after that, Konecny made a great pass down to Raffl, who was right in front of Keith Kinkaid and got space from Damon Severson. Raffl finished that play to make it 2-0. There could have been one or two more were it not for puck luck and Kinkaid. The line continued to threaten throughout. Schenn and Raffl may be the “veterans,” but Konecny was the best among them - and all of the players - tonight.
The Devils didn’t have much of an answer for Konecny or anything else against the Flyers from the second period onward. It was not as if the Devils had no opportunities. They were just squandered. A 3-on-2 with no shot on net here, a 2-on-2 with no shot after a cross-up there. A power play yielding nothing here, an attempt to cycle with maybe one shot there. The execution was sloppy. That made it easier for the Flyers to get a stop, respond, and spend more time in New Jersey’s end. The second and third periods was like an inverse of the Devils-Flyers game on Monday, only with fewer shots on net.
Truth be told, the Devils’ roster tonight was arguably weaker than that one. The only NHL-caliber players on the ice were Jacob Josefson, Damon Severson, Jon Merrill, Joseph Blandisi, and Keith Kinkaid. That said, the Flyers didn’t have too many either. By my count from Broad Street Hockey’s post about this game, I’d given that designation to Schenn, MacDonald, VandeVelde, Raffl, and Manning. Ahead of the game, I’d say it would be an even matchup. Konecny definitely looked like he should be in the NHL right away. That the Devils didn’t really threaten much - particularly after conceding two goals - speaks to the fact the Devils’ performance just was not good enough. Some of that may be chalked up to their roster featuring some different combinations and debuts; but the execution wasn’t good enough and the Flyers deserved to win.
Is it worth worrying about? No. Not at all. It’s the third preseason game and a number of these players won’t be on the roster in a few days anyway. Now, if the Devils played like this, say, in their last preseason game with a near-opening night-ready line up, then sure. Worry then. But not tonight. The mostly-Albany Devils didn’t play well and lost to a mostly-Lehigh Valley Phantoms team. It was sloppy and it happened. Tomorrow is another day - and another game with a likely stronger lineup.
The Game Stats?: Believe it or not, there’s no stats for this one at NHL.com. Therefore, there’s nothing to really link to. Sorry.
The Best Devil: In my opinion, the best New Jersey Devil player was goaltender Keith Kinkaid. He was beaten three times (maybe a fourth; a post was hit during a late third period power play for Philly, but I couldn’t see if he was really beaten). Here are those three times in review. First, he was beaten by a deflection off a shot created by a faceoff win. Second, he had no chance on his right flank where a cross-slot pass by Raffl fed Konecny, who only struck the iron. Third, he was one-on-one with Raffl just after getting a pass a few feet from his crease. The first was a deflection; hardly a controllable event for any goalie. He was hung out to dry, for lack of a better term, for the second and third times. My main point was that he did not give up anything soft.
If anything, Kinkaid made plenty of stops to keep the game within some kind of striking distance. He denied Raffl plenty of other times tonight. He was solid during the Devils’ three penalty kills. He didn’t have too much trouble with the puck and he didn’t concede too many problematic rebounds. Among the Devils’ veterans, he was the most reliable performer. On this night, that made him stand out the most.
Behind Kinkaid, I think Joseph Blandisi and Miles Wood showed the most going forward. Both skated well and those two looked the best during the team’s good start. I’ll think better of players who attack with pace. Plus, Wood stayed out of the box and Blandisi only took one minor and didn’t
Silver Linings: The Devils remained perfect on the penalty kill. They survived all three shorthanded situations tonight. Their wedge-plus-one was not so aggressive tonight; but they didn’t force Kinkaid to stand on his head for those six minutes. Related to that, the Devils only had three shorthanded situations tonight. That’s a big improvement over the seven power plays against them from Monday night. I can appreciate the improved discipline.
The Disappointing Devils: I can’t appreciate some of the performances tonight. I admittedly did not think much of Ben Thomson or Brandon Baddock ahead of this game and I did not think much of them after the game (notably Thomson, who took a high sticking call that undercut plenty of hope for at least one consolation goal). I didn’t think Brandon Gignac or Nathan Bastian would do much and I don’t think they really did. However, I did expect better from what I saw out of the likes of Josefson, Severson, and especially Merrill. I wasn’t pleased with their performances.
Josefson seemed invisible for most of the night. Severson looked like he was guilty on the second goal against; he didn’t make much of an impact on offense or defense. I could be convinced otherwise for those two, but not Merrill. Merrill just had a rough night. I’m trying to think what was a worse moment: Konecny blowing by him in the first period as if he was a rookie? Perhaps cross-checking a not-at-all heavy Konecny after a faceoff loss, but doing nothing to his stick, which tipped in MacDonald’s shot? Schenn just trucking Merrill after a zone entry, which nearly yielded a second goal for Raffl? Merrill trying to attack? It was a bad night for #7. It was also an odd one as it appeared he lined up on the right side. Given that he’s left handed, I wonder whether it contributed much to his rough evening. Whether it did or not, he needs to be better next time.
A Not So Silver Lining: One thing I do want to be better is the power play. The Devils did little with either of their power plays tonight. While the personnel may have not been ideal for a man advantage, there was not much doing. With a potentially better-on-paper roster tomorrow, I’m hopeful they can at least generate more offense with their man advantages tomorrow.
On a Lighter Note: I watched this on MSG+, which was broadcasting Comcast’s coverage of the game. The first 3:20 had no graphics or commentators due to technical difficulties. I quite enjoyed it.
I didn’t think the commentators were bad, beyond focusing on the Flyers (which was expected); but it was refreshing to watch a game on TV and have nothing but the audio in the arena.
Your Take: The Devils’ performance was sloppy and the losing result was earned. We’ll see after Thursday’s game how many of these players stick around in camp. Now that you know what I thought of this loss, I want to know what you thought of the game. Who was the best Devil in your opinion? Who was the worst? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this defeat in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along on Twitter (@AAtJerseyBlog) and in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.