After beating the Islanders in Brooklyn and beating the Capitals, I was hoping that the New Jersey Devils would go three for three and get a win over Philadelphia today. That did not happen. The Devils were terrible all over in the first period and the Flyers made them pay. It took only seven shots in twelve minutes to score three goals. That is a big hole for any team to climb out of and the Devils failed to do. The Devils were effectively buried by the Flyers in a first period of a game that ended 1-3.
Last week, the Devils disappointed against Philadelphia. Today, they, well, disappointed against Philadelphia. It was different in that the Devils were coming off two good on-ice performances. So good it was jarring to see the Devils struggle to do a whole lot right in those first twenty minutes. I couldn’t tell you how many times the Devils skaters flubbed on passes. I couldn’t tell you how many failures they had at trying to clear the zone. I couldn’t tell you how they played like defensive coverage was optional. This all cost the Devils. Travis Konency was wide open as he scored on Philadelphia’s first shot of the day. The Devils were out of sorts as Michael Raffl settled a bouncing puck to feed Valterri Filppula in the slot on a one-timer. Ivan Provorov got to the net and had not just one, but two attempts at the goal before making it a three-goal deficit for New Jersey. It’s enough to make any Devils fan just shake their head at the lackadaisical and ineffective play.
When the Devils even had a chance at offense, more often than not, the attempt did not even get to the net; Natural Stat Trick had the Devils with fifteen 5-on-5 shooting attempts and only five actually went to Michal Neuvirth. Making that worse was the fact that the Devils were behind on the scoreboard early on. That matches up with how the game went over the whole afternoon. The Flyers played a well-structured game that kept the Devils more than honest while not giving up glorious chances for the Devils to get back into the game. The Devils did not get any more than 10 5-on-5 shots in the second and third periods and the Flyers weren’t heavily out-attempted or out-shot in those periods either. The Devils’ offense did appear, threaten, and even put the Devils on the board once. But it wasn’t enough to overcome Neuvirth, the Flyers’ defense, and a little fortune (plenty of rebounds were left begging today).
Making matters worse were the injuries the Devils sustained. Keith Kinkaid was hurt after Provorov scored. He stayed down and was replaced by Ken Appleby. Cory Schneider was sick and so New Jersey used one of their two emergency call-ups to bring Appleby back in. He became necessary today. Appleby was absolutely fantastic. More on him later in this recap. The Devils also lost Brian Gibbons for most of the day. Early in the second period, a shot hit Gibbons in the hand. He went to the bench and would not return. This left the Devils short a forward for the remainder of the game. It remains to be seen how severe their injuries are. It is still bad news on top of a bad game.
If there’s any solace to take out of this game, then it is that the Devils were able to stop the bleeding after Appleby came in. That’s largely due to Appleby being a wall in net. He made some tough saves from shots in the slot, he was able to get in front of shots coming at angles, and he was able to swallow up most loose pucks and rebounds. Appleby’s glove was strong as were his pads. While the Flyers came close to beating him, they were not able to do so. That’s rather impressive. Not just for someone coming in cold, but also for someone who was not third on the depth chart back in October. It is a shame that his NHL debut was not in a victory, but that is no fault of his own. He was clearly the best Devil today.
Further, the Devils were able to at least provide some kind of challenge to the Flyers in the second and third periods. The Devils did score on a power play: a Jesper Bratt blast that went off Radko Gudas and past a screening Travis Zajac. The Devils were able to get some decent looks at the net and pin back the Flyers for a bit. Alas, some of those looks ended with whiffed shots, shots going wide, or shots being deflected away. While there were extra pucks to be had after the shots that did get to Neuvirth, the Devils were unable to chip any rebounds in. While there were still issues that made those periods harder on them (e.g penalties, some bad pinches), it was far better than the awfulness of that first period. The second and third periods served to highlight how bad that first one was and how it drove this loss. Again, the Flyers buried the Devils in the first period and the Devils couldn’t rise up.
The Opposition Opinion: Kurt R. has this recap at Broad Street Hockey.
A Bad Day for the Top Line: While Taylor Hall extended his point streak and Bratt scored a PPG, this was not a good day for the line of Hall, Nico Hischier, and Jesper Bratt. They were matched up against Philadelphia’s top line of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Travis Konecny. The line also saw a lot of Provorov and Shane Gostisbehere. Understandably, this was power-for-power. It also went badly for the Devils. The Hischier line generated all of three shots and four attempts against the Couturier line. The Flyers line, in response, took seven shots, eleven attempts, and two goals. Bratt was especially poor on Provorov, failing to even try to wrap him up or impede him prior to his goal. Hall took an unnecessary high-sticking penalty in the second period, which kept the Devils from attacking for two minutes. Even if the stick didn’t make full contact, he didn’t need to raise it up either. Hischier did not do much and he was dominated at the dot, winning only one out of seven faceoffs today. It was a bad day for 9-13-63 and the match-up, which was against Philly’s top defensive pairing, two all-star caliber forwards and Konecny, just crushed them. That stood out on a day like this.
Poor Palmieri: Kyle Palmieri stood out as far as having a bad game today. He took two penalties that weren’t good. He dangerously checked Couturier from behind into the boards whilst the forward was on his knees. That ended a Devils power play and it could ended far, far worse for Couturier than it did. The second call was Palmieri failing to make a pass off the boards; he sent the puck over the glass instead. What was more frustrating to me was his shooting. Normally, Palmieri is very good at getting hard shots on target. Today, he just struggled at it. He had at least three good looks on the power play - and missed on all of them. He led a shorthanded 2-on-1 only for the one defender to be able to deflect the shot away. Palmieri struggled with pucks at even strength too. While he or his line wasn’t picked on like the Hischier line today, Palmieri had opportunities to make a difference or at least force Neuvirth to make a save. He didn’t. Combined with the two minors, it was a bad day for #21 too.
A Defendable Penalty Call: Every so often, you’ll hear on a broadcast or see a fan write that a penalty was necessary. Travis Zajac provided a perfect example of that today. In the final minute of the second period, the Flyers broke out and Michael Raffl was streaking to the net. Zajac was with him, but Raffl had inside position. The puck was sent in, it went across the slot, and was heading to a spot where all Raffl had to do was tap it in. Zajac hooked Raffl to denied him that chance. Effectively, Zajac saved a fourth goal that would have all but secured a Flyers win at the time. Those penalties do not happen often, but they are worth noting when they do.
On Point Penalty Kill, But the PP...: The penalty kill did break down a couple of times today. Wayne Simmonds had a wide open shot right on Appleby’s doorstep and he, somehow, missed the net. I’m still confused at how that happened. But for the most part, the Devils penalty killers did a really good job at winning pucks and securing clearances. They killed all four shorthanded situations and limited the Flyers’ power play to six shots on net. Appleby did very well on those six shots, most notably gloving down a Couturier rocket from the slot in the final seconds of the first period. Still, the Devils completed their kills as their PK has solidified over the last few games.
The power play, however, remains to be a sore for sighted eyes. Yes, Bratt scored a power play goal. Yes, the fifth power play lasted for the final two seconds of the game. Yet, the team generated only four shots on net and Palmieri ended one early with a senseless hit on Couturier. The Devils were losing 0-3 and 1-3 during those power plays. They were able get some good zone entries, some straight-up carry-ins to get set up. Yet, the Devils made the least of them. Just because the Devils converted one of them does not mean their power play does not have issues generating offense. A more functional power play could have yielded a second goal and perhaps the Devils could have turned the game around. But yet again, the opportunities were left on the table.
An Odd Stat Line: From Natural Stat Trick, check out Will Butcher in 5-on-5 play. Butcher (and by extension Ben Lovejoy) had an awesome attempt and shot differential. When he was on the ice, the Devils out-attempted the Flyers 20 to 12 and out-shot the Flyers 14 to 7. In terms of high-danger chances, though, the Devils were out-done 0 to 6 when Butcher was on the ice. That’s odd. And concerning. In general, I thought Butcher and Lovejoy were the best of the defensemen today. Not so coincidentally, their matchup was a bit easier than Giroux-Couturier-Konecny. Not that Jakub Voracek and Filppula are easy opponents, but they were handled far better than that other line.
Fights Change Nothing: John Moore had a fight against Michael Raffl in the first period. Naturally, the old canard about how this could change momentum came up. It changed nothing in the first period and it had zero impact on anything that happened in the subsequent periods. Moore certainly was not a factor either. Maybe I need to update a look at it (I looked at it more closely in 2011), but today was another example where a fight affected nothing. The canard should be ignored.
Congratulations: I cannot stress enough how great Ken Appleby was today. While I’m sure he’d have his own thoughts about some his saves, he went above and beyond any expectations when he entered the net after Kinkaid’s injury. It was an excellent NHL debut. I do enjoy being able to write that the Flyers could not beat a goalie making their NHL debut and was bouncing between the AHL and ECHL in recent years. Depending on Schneider’s illness and that injury, we could see Appleby make his first NHL start very soon.
By the way, you should really be following Jeff Ulmer here for his Binghamton coverage. He would be the first to tell you that Appleby has grown with the B-Devils and he’s not surprised at how he played today.
Some Final Thoughts: Since the Flyers are a rival, I’m not happy about this loss. After two games where the Devils were able to make a breakthrough and pick up some wins, I cannot help but think this is a disappointment. The Flyers may be behind the Devils in the standings but, like everyone else in the division, they’re not scrubs at all. Any team needs to come out well against anyone within the division if they want the game to end well. And they need to keep it up. Twice now, the Devils’ effort against Philadelphia simply wasn’t good enough. It won’t be long before they get a third crack at the Winged P’s. Perhaps they’ll show a more complete effort, some more pride on February 1 (Coincidentally, February 1 is Pride Night at the Rock.).
For what it’s worth, the Devils cannot dwell on this loss for too long. They have three games over the next four nights after Sunday.
Your Take: The Devils lost 1-3 after a really bad first period. Appleby was great in relief, but I view this game as a disappointment. What say you? What did you make of this game? What do the Devils need to figure out ahead of their next game on Monday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to Devin for the game preview from this morning. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.