What do most sports fans want when they go to a game? Ideally, they’d want their favorite team to win. But they also want to see greatness. They want to see a player or players not only do what they do best but achieve something in the process. Such as a big stop in a situation where teams have commonly scored. Such as a long pass that’s right on the money to create a great situation. Such as an inch-perfect feed to a streaking and wide-open teammate. Such as that teammate hammering in that feed for a game-winning score. It’s the sort of thing that combines physical effort, mental effort, hard work, talent, and even art. It’s wonderful when it all comes together.
And it all came together for the New Jersey Devils as they beat the Philadelphia Flyers for the fourth time this season out of five games. The big stop? That should be a plural as Keith Kinkaid was sensational in stopping all thirty-five shots by the Flyers. The Flyers attacked in many ways, especially on the power play, but Kinkaid denied them all with aplomb. The long pass? That was by Kyle Palmieri as the Devils and Flyers were changing players in overtime. He saw Taylor Hall open and made it count. The inch-perfect pass? That was Hall, who saucer-passed the puck past Shane Gostisbehere as if he was a ghost. The puck landed perfectly flat for the third man on the play: John Moore. Moore’s stick hit that puck perfectly past a lateral-moving Steve Mason. His one-timer was akin to a slam dunk in basketball, made only sweeter by the fact it won overtime. That goal ended a six-game losing streak. That goal stopped what was starting to feel like a never ending slide. That goal made it possible for the Devils fans to leave the game with a smile on one’s face. And if not right after, then after seeing a sullen or salty Flyers fan. That goal was glorious.
Between Kinkaid’s excellent outing in the crease and that goal, I’m just going to summarize the win in one word: Woo.
3 games left.
The Game Summary: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Shift Charts | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: DylanRCoyle has this recap at Broad Street Hockey, calling it a boring loss. Strange that someone who would presumably be a fan doesn’t like their own team, but he is a Flyers fan so whatever.
That Said, Dylan’s Right in that the Game was a Stinker: There were many points in this game where I wondered whether either team actually wanted this game. The common run of play often featured one team try to gain the other team’s zone. If they manage to do so, it isn’t long before they lose the puck to the opposition’s defense either by the defense making a good play or the attacking team just losing the puck with a bad decision. The play through the neutral zone often wasn’t clean either, so while the game had a good pace to it, not a whole lot was really happening. Yes, the Flyers out-shot the Devils 35-27 and out-attempted them 54-40. That was in all situations. In 5-on-5 situations, shots were 21-17 in favor of Philly with the visitors leading in attempts 34-29. The Devils’ scorer may under count these evens, but it really was a low event game. Both teams just struggled to make a whole lot happen. There were definitely some good chances created and several offensive opportunities by both sides, but they were often far between each other. There were many, many, many more opportunities left unrealized due to a thwarted decision, a miscommunication, or just bad execution. That added to the “meh” feeling this game between two non-playoff teams carried.
What furthered that feeling was what the game lacked. The last Devils-Flyers game featured dirty plays - which got Dalton Prout deservedly suspended but curiously not Dale Weise - multiple fights, and a whole lot of sass. When the news came out that the Devils called up Luke Gazdic and Ben Thomson, I just assumed there would be a requisite amount of violence between two teams that just plain don’t like each other. Those two fight and hit and do non-hockey things and likely get a lot of love from Ken Daneyko. (Their call up also screams “tank.”) Well, there wasn’t really any of that. Big checks? Sure. Penalties? Many. Fights? None - just one post-whistle scrum that went nowhere. I’m glad the game didn’t break down into guys taking runs at each other or fists being thrown. I’d rather not have that. But to be honest, the lack of action demonstrating how much these two teams don’t like each other dampened the feeling of the game. Ultimately, this was just another game for both sides.
Special Team Differences: I’ll say this for the Flyers: their special teams were quite good tonight. Their penalty kill received a bumbling and stumbling Devils power play performance that really only succeeded at making fans like me grumble about it. OK, it wasn’t all bad. The Devils did end up generating eight shots out of their five man advantage situations. But, again, those came few and far between each situation. The first and last situations were wasted. Their second, an abbreviated situation, and their third were OK. Yet, there was more time spent by the Devils trying to get set up for something rather than actually threatening Mason and the Flyers’ penalty killers. By the end, I wondered whether John Hynes and his staff hate the concept of power plays.
In contrast, the Flyers showed how to get it done. How to enter the zone, how to set up plays, how to utilize a formation properly, and how to have the point men in position to keep pucks in play. The Flyers generated twelve shots out of four situations. The Flyers’ two power plays in the second period generated the most - eight shots, half of their period total - and threatened to break through the most. The Flyers’ power play forced some of the best saves Kinkaid made tonight. Yes, the Flyers have a talent advantage on paper. A team with Jakub Voracek, Claude Giroux, and Wayne Simmonds should result in an effective power play attempt. But everyone contributed; it looked like a team on the same page. Sort of the opposite of the Devils’ power play units. The only time the Flyers really faltered was near the end of the game; credit the Devils’ penalty killers and Kinkaid for being stinger in the final minutes of the third.
Gritensity Line: Gazdic and Thomson (who made his NHL debut in this game) were the wings for Blake Coleman. This was very much the grittiest “energy” line John Hynes could have put together given who is in the organization. I will give them credit for their energetic hustle. I will also say that Thomson did have a good shot on net and drew a cross-check from Michael Del Zotto during one of the rare offensive shifts the unit had tonight. He wasn’t a waste. And the unit weren’t the worst in the run of play. However, they weren’t that good of a line beyond trying to check people. Thomson took a cross-checking call in the second period, so he was even in terms of penalties. Coleman took a hooking call within the final five minutes of the game; giving the Flyers a power play late in regulation. Most of all, they didn’t really affect anything. Sure, if you wanted some big body presence, they provided that. But the Flyers weren’t at all bothered as they attacked against that line quite a bit. It didn’t really energize the crowd and definitely not their teammates. It was just a line of bodies. I can respect Gazdic and Thomson wanting to make the most of an opportunity to play in New Jersey. I would not like to see this unit in the next three games.
Phbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbt: Ben Lovejoy had a really rough game. He took a stupid cross-checking penalty in the first period. His handling of the puck in non-penalty kill situations was all over the place. Lovejoy and Andy Greene saw plenty of ice time against Weise, Simmonds, and Sean Couturier as well as a top line of Giroux, Voracek, and Braden Schenn. Those match-ups forced 6-12 to play a lot of defense and Lovejoy was just problematic at times. Fortunately for him (and Greene), Kinkaid was fantastic tonight.
Please Change Them Back: Instead of Hall, Zajac, and Palmieri, we witnessed Zajac, Palmieri, and Henrique. Hall was instead skating with Michael Cammalleri and Pavel Zacha. The Zacha line was OK. They had their ups and downs and Cammalleri oscillating between them. He had four shots on net and drew a penalty so it was on the positive end for #13. As for Zajac’s line, woof. That unit played plenty of defense and generated little offense. Only Henrique had shots on net between the three and that was on the power play. Henrique-Zajac-Palmieri seriously had no shots on net at even strength. I can forgive Zajac in that he’s usually playing with shooters, he shouldn’t be the shooter. But nothing for Palmieri? Kyle Palmieri, who’s thing is shooting the puck well? No shots? That makes me facepalm. More seriously, it should be evidence to change the lines back around - regardless of the winning result.
Thanks: John Moore usually doesn’t mind jumping up on the play to do a Marek Zidlicky impersonation. Strangely, he wasn’t so aggressive tonight. There were a few times where a loose puck was just waiting for him to go after, but instead just stayed at the blueline in anticipation of a Flyer. Pinching in would have been the smart play in those cases since Moore could have beaten a Flyer to the puck in those few cases. That said, I am grateful he took a more aggressive approach in overtime. When he came onto the ice, he flew right up ice to join Hall and give him an option. That allowed Moore to win the game.
This Partially Why You’re Not Playing After April 9, So Hold Those L’s: All three games between these two teams at the Rock were wins. You might as well spell it as the PhiLadeLphia FLyers.
The Sherman Abrams Section: Sherman Abrams is not happy. He is seething. He had a feeling the Devils were going to win a game before the end of the season. But he is still livid about it. The Devils went to overtime, which guaranteed at least one point. They won it in overtime, which meant two points were earned. This means, as of this writing, the Devils are in 27th place. Sherman Abrams has been advocating his personal philosophy of tanking and was otherwise pleased with the last two months. To see it take a hit this late wounds him personally.
In order to calm down, Sherman Abrams would like me to break down the situation. New Jersey now has 70 points. They have three games left. The highest they can move up to is 26th and that requires winning all of their games to match Detroit and Detroit not earning another point this season. Arizona did go to overtime to lose to Dallas, so they’re two points behind the Devils at 68 points. They have two games left. 29th isn’t impossible, but it’ll be hard to achieve as it’ll require Arizona to keep getting points. As of this writing, Vancouver is losing to San Jose - they’re in 28th right now. They’ll have 69 points and three games left after tonight if the current score holds. There is a big game for this situation next: Arizona and
San Jose Vancouver will play each other on Thursday. The ideal situation is for the Devils to obviously lose in regulation to Pittsburgh and hope that game goes to overtime. A ROW for Vancouver helps the Devils stay below them in tiebreaker situations in addition to getting points. A ROW for Arizona gives them two points and really makes the last weekend interesting for Mr. Abrams. Above all, Mr. Abrams doesn’t want to see any more wins for New Jersey.
Me? I like the win over a rival team just fine. I think Sherman Abrams and his proponents will just have to deal with it.
Thank You Patty Pt. 1: Patrik Elias held a press conference before the game regarding his retirement. He also came out to drop the puck in a ceremonial faceoff. The Rock gave the legendary forward a lot of love with a standing ovation. It was well deserved. I’m sure he knows, but he is beloved by the Devils faithful for all of the great moments and times he’s brought to the fans and the franchise. It was great to see him tonight. His last lap on April 8 should be emotional.
One Last Thought: I have to give it up for Wayne Simmonds. In five games against the Devils, this is what he has done:
December 22 - 19:19 TOI, 2 shots on net, 16 PIM (roughing, boarding, unsportsmanlike conduct, misconduct)
January 21 - 18:44, 1 shot on net, 9 PIM (roughing, fighting, unsportsmanlike conduct at same time as another Flyer penalty)
March 16 - 17:29, 2 shots on net, 0 PIM (really)
April 1 - 15:37 TOI, 2 shots on net, 17 PIM (roughing, fighting, misconduct)
April 4 - 17:57 TOI, 2 shots on net, 4 PIM (slashing during a PP, hi-sticking)
That’s a total of nine shots in five games, no points, two misconducts, two unsportsmanlike conducts, a wiped-out power play, and turning a 4-on-5 for his team into a 3-on-5. Wooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!
Your Take: The Devils ended a six-game losing streak and beat the Second Rate Rivals with a dramatic goal by Moore and a splendid performance by Kinkaid. What did you make of the performance? What, if anything, should the Devils do about it? How did you react to Moore’s goal? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.