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Game Preview #69: New Jersey Devils vs. Philadelphia Flyers

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Tonight, the New Jersey Devils will host the Second Rate Rivals: the Philadelphia Flyers. This game preview goes into what the Flyers are about and what’s new with the Devils’ lineup. Don’t forget to “Wooo!” if you’re attending.

Philadelphia Flyers v New Jersey Devils
This was a fun night! Let’s repeat this!
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Woo. Part three.

The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV – MSG+; Radio – The One Jersey Network

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (25-31-12) vs. the Philadelphia Flyers (32-29-8; SBN Blog: Broad Street Hockey)

The Last Devils Game: Since weather prevented the Devils from hosting Winnipeg – that game is now going to happen on March 28 – the last Devils game was last Saturday against Arizona. The first 25 minutes of that one was supremely awful as the Devils went down four straight goals to the Coyotes. However, there would be signs of real hope from the Devils, who were mired in a nine-game winless streak on that night. Kyle Palmieri put home a great pass by Taylor Hall to make it 1-4 to convert a power play. Minutes later, Beau Bennett took a fumbled puck from Luke Schenn and went bar-down on Mike Smith with a backhander to make it 2-4. Within the first minute of the third period, a long shot by Damon Severson touched off Palmieri and trickled through Smith to make it 3-4. The comeback effort was on. Until it wasn’t. Anthony DeAngelo fired in a shot through traffic to beat Keith Kinkaid – who was excellent in relief of Cory Schneider – to make it 3-5. The comeback hope returned shortly after that score when John Moore finished a cross-ice pass from Pavel Zacha to make it 4-5. Unfortunately, the Devils’ offense began to stall. While Hall was awarded a late penalty shot – it was stopped – the Devils had issues getting into Arizona’s end to attack. And so what looked like a miserable rout ended up being another one-goal loss for the Devils’ tenth winless game in a row. My recap of the loss is here.

The Last Flyers Game: The Flyers hosted their in-state rival last night, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers have been increasingly on the outside looking into the playoff picture. A win over their rivals may kindle some hope to make a late charge into it. Plus, it’s fun to beat a rival. Did they do it? Yes - with authority. After a scoreless first period, Sean Couturier opened the scoring early in the first period. Wayne Simmonds made the Pens pay for a penalty minutes later to make it 2-0. In the third period, the game held steady until there was just over five minutes left in the game. Then, Claude Giroux scored to make it 3-0. In the final minute, Dale Wiese put an exclamation mark on a 4-0 shut out win on national television. Yes, the Flyers blanked the Penguins. Yes, they did so decisively. Will they be back in the playoff picture? We’ll see after tonight.

The Last Devils-Flyers Game: Back on January 21, the Devils played Philadelphia in a game filled with astounding sights like a functional power play and Wayne Simmonds helping the Devils succeed. The Devils struck first with a score by Pavel Zacha finishing a little pass by Jacob Josefson. The Flyers responded when Nick Cousins fired one past Keith Kinkaid – filling in for an ill Schneider – just after a power play expired. Kinkaid was fantastic as Cousins’ goal would be the only one the Flyers would get. Referees Dan O’Halloran and Francois St. Laurent had their hands full as they assessed fifteen penalties in the game. The most important ones: Radko Gudas clipping Miles Wood and Simmonds spitting out the verbals at the refs for said clipping penalty. Simmonds received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty so the Devils had a two-minute 5-on-3. Palmieri scored for the team’s first 5-on-3 goal of the season and to make it 2-1. Late in the second, Wood led a 2-on-1 with his firey speed and torched Steve Mason with a shot to make it 3-1. Over four minutes into the third, Wood converted a power play for insurance as he finished a feed from Hall. Despite salt and a massive load of shooting attempts from the Flyers, the score stood at 4-1. Woo. My recap of the win is here. For the other side, here’s a recap at Broad Street Hockey that was more about a video game than the hockey game.

The Goal: Stay cool. The last Devils-Flyers game was decided on special teams as there were thirteen total power play situations between the two teams. The Flyers aren’t likely to be happy where they are and the Devils are surely frustrated with their losing streak. How frustrated? They had more than their fair share of scrums against Arizona, one of two teams who are lower than the Devils in the standings. Arizona went up big on the Devils in part because they went 2-for-3 on the power play against the Devils. Should this rivalry game get feisty with multiple penalties doled out, I doubt the Devils are going to come up so big on their penalty kill like they did on January 21. The Devils need to keep calm and avoid the penalty box, while doing the things that drive the Flyers there.

Alternatively, they can annoy Wayne Simmonds by existing, who could very well take an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that could hurt his team for the third straight Devils-Flyers game in this season (this is the third game).

The Seemingly Constant Strength of the Opposition: Philly has been known for strong forward play for a while. They seemingly have a number of talented and productive forwards to make one sweat. Jakub Voracek is a shot-machine as he leads the team with 223 in 69 games; he is also the team’s leader in points. Claude Giroux has been a top center for several years now; he’s just behind Voracek in points and he’s a very good possession player given his 52% CF% per Corsica. Brayden Schenn has been a fine producer with twenty goals and twenty-five assists. Sean Couturier has proven to be a very good hand deeper in their lineup. Travis Konecny has played significant minutes as a rookie; he’s the second best one on the team.

This year has been the year of Wayne Simmonds. He is the team’s leader in goals with 29, he was named to the All-Star Game and won the All-Star MVP, and I would say he’s the current example of the “prototypical power forward.” He’s going to set his large frame up by the crease on power plays, use his great hands to both stickhandle in tight corners and take very good shots, and be incredibly difficult to move on and off the puck. Should he be able to not do something like, say, take an unsportsmanlike penalty for arguing with a ref because of some other call, then he could be a big problem. Well, who am I kidding? He would still be a very dangerous man for the Devils to deal with tonight.

From the Back: There are some offensive threats from Philly’s blueline to be aware of. First is Shayne Gostisbehere. He’s demonstrated some excellent decision-making from the point and it often leads to points. With 158 shots on net, you can be sure the Devils forwards will have to keep an eye on him or else hope he doesn’t make the Devils suffer too badly. Second is Ivan Provorov, who is Philly’s best rookie. This defenseman has taken on big minutes, he has twenty-five points already (5 goals, 20 assists), 112 shots on net, and trying not to get dragged down by Andrew MacDonald. Provorov was excellent in the last Devils-Flyers game; he’s going to be a problem for Flyers opponents for years to come. Third as an X-factor is Radko Gudas. Sure, his reputation may be for taking bad and/or stupid penalties. He also has 97 shots on net, four goals and fifteen assists, and a surprisingly excellent CF% of about 54%. Provided the Flyers keep their acts together - and do not change their pairings - then the Devils could face an offensive threat on each pairing. It’ll be important for the forwards to keep the points from being launching pads for Flyers’ successes.

The Seemingly Constant Weakness of the Opposition: Goaltending, goaltending, goaltending, and goaltending. While the Flyers haven’t been as sieve-like as they were earlier in this season, their 5-on-5 save percentage is a mere 91.32%, which is the fifth lowest in the NHL according to Corsica. Their 4-on-5 save percentage is a poor 84.96%, which is the third lowest in the NHL also according to Corsica. While no one would confuse the Flyers’ defense as being ironclad, it appears that the Flyers netminders continue to be a problem for the franchise. It’s almost as someone cursed the organization to have a goalie play well for about a season or so, fall back to Earth after some kind of commitment, and wander about to find the next hot hand.

Right now, their main netminder is Steve Mason, who is rocking a “meh” 91.6% even strength save percentage at NHL.com, a “bleh” 84.1% penalty kill save percentage at NHL.com, and a “ugh” Goals Saved Above Average (this is a 5-on-5 stat) of -5.3 per Corsica. Mason did play very well last night. He did shut out the Penguins. What this may mean is that the Devils could see Michal Neuvirth. Neuvirth has been worse than Mason in all of these stats this season: 90% even strength save percentage, 81.9% penalty kill save percentage, and a GSAA of -7.28. This backup hasn’t helped much. Given that the Devils put four past Mike Smith during a deficit, I’m hopeful the Devils could light the lamp a few times if Neuvirth is indeed starting this game.

Related to this: Charlie O’Connor had a post at Broad Street Hockey discussing the team’s recent PK woes. His conclusion: the goaltending has really struggled in recent games. He also had this amazing summation of the Flyers this season:

The Flyers are essentially dealing with the same issue that plagued them at 5v5 over the first few months of the season. They aren’t giving up a lot of shots, but when they do, it’s poor defensive coverage making shots more difficult than they should be, combined with a total inability by the goaltenders to make a tough save.

Basically, it’s yet another shining example of the sad story of the 2016-17 Philadelphia Flyers — they do just enough right to give fans hope, but still find a way to make all of that work pointless by failing at pivotal details.

I know the Devils are having a worse season. I still smile at reading this.

The Latest Re-Call Up: John Quenneville appeared for a few minutes with the Devils earlier this season. He is now back with New Jersey. According to Brian’s latest post about the team’s prospects, Quenneville was Brian’s choice as the A-Devil of the week for his recent performances. He’s also the team’s leading scorer in total and primary points and the team’s leader in shots per game. It makes sense that he gets a chance to show off how he has grown during his first career as a professional player.

Based on this Wednesday post by Andrew Gross at Fire & Ice, it appears he’ll get this chance centering a line with Pavel Zacha and Stefan Noesen. I would prefer Zacha to center the unit if only to not throw Quenneville in the middle right away. However, that could change as the game goes on and who John Hynes chooses in a match-up. We’ll see if the combination works out.

In order for Quenneville to have been called up, someone went to Albany. That someone was Kevin Rooney. He played in four games and, well, he played four games with the team.

The Return of Zajac: Congratulations to the Zajacs as their third child was born on Saturday. Travis Zajac will now play in his first game since the birth of Anya Zia Zajac. According to Gross, Zajac will go right back in the middle of Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri. Adam Henrique wasn’t too bad in between those two and Zajac has been pretty good with them as of late.

Henrique will go back to playing with other wingers, which may or may not help his own cause. Joseph Blandisi and Beau Bennett will be his linemates to at least start this game. Bennett did quite well in Arizona and scored a lovely goal. It sure would be nice if he could build on that. Similarly, I hope Blandisi can behave in a rivalry game. What of Miles Wood? Apparently, he’ll be with Blake Pietila and Blake Coleman in a sort of an Albany line. I would still expect to see Wood take power play minutes and perhaps move up in the lineup if someone struggles. Until Michael Cammalleri, Jacob Josefson, or Devante Smith-Pelly are healthy enough to return - I would expect this lineup to stick around for a few days.

Rewarding Goaltending: Keith Kinkaid came into a, well, not-so-heavy pressure situation in Arizona in relief of Cory Schneider. It was 0-4 when he came in. Kinkaid was excellent in stopping all but one of the Coyotes’ shots, which helped the comeback effort actually be possible. Gross’ report from Wednesday has a quote from Hynes stating that he was intended to start against Winnipeg. With that game postponed and the Devils playing in Pittsburgh on Friday, it makes sense that he gets this start instead. I do think Kinkaid is effectively being showcased and that’s fine. It’s not exactly a secret that the Devils will only protect Cory Schneider in the expansion draft. So Kinkaid has the incentive to do well if only for others to form a more favorable opinion of them. I expect we’ll see more of him as the season winds down.

St. Patrick’s Day - One Day Early: As the Devils will be on the road on March 17, the Devils will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day today. From a release I received from the team, the first 9,000 fans will get a free green hat, there will be bagpipers and Irish dancers on the main concourse, and you can buy all sorts of green Devils merchandise.

But will they wear their old jerseys?

Yes. They will. The tradition will continue. Gross has confirmed the retro jerseys will be worn in this post. Whether you’re a fan of the original red-white-and-greens or the amazing red-white-and-blacks, we can all agree: it’s better than orange.

One Last Thought: Wooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

Your Take: The Devils will take on the Second Rate Rivals tonight. Will the Devils finally break their ten-game winless streak by spoiling Philadelphia’s waning playoff hopes? Why or why not? I want it to happen; do you? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.