The New Jersey Devils entered the city of Philadelphia with four straight losses in regulation. Their hosts and opponents, the Philadelphia Flyers, won four straight games before this one. The Devils were in the sort of funk where mistakes became costlier and the games became more frustrating. The Flyers were flowing and rolling in the games and up the standings. Twice, the Flyers went up by two goals on the Devils. It seemed certain at points that the Devils were going to lose a fifth straight game and fall even further in the Metropolitan Division. And with less then 90 seconds in regulation, Taylor Hall puts home a rebound in front for the second equalizer. They survived overtime and won via a shootout, 5-4, to end the losing streak.
There were numerous shifts where the Flyers were in control and all the Devils could do was skate like an out-classed opponent. The first period was definitely a Flyers period. The best the Devils could muster on offense were two shots hitting the post, both from Taylor Hall. While the Devils’ offense was much more effective (and productive) in the second period, the Devils were just getting owned on defense whenever the Flyers started to gain some control in New Jersey’s end. Devils lamely skated as fans had to hold their breaths slightly when Keith Kinkaid was called on to make a save. The Devils took two penalties in their own end; one evened-up and one that led to Philly going up 4-2 on a Claude Giroux PPG. 13 shots and 3 goals against. Even with Jesper Bratt giving-and-going with Nico Hischier for a lovely goal from Nico, the Devils were in a familiar spot: down going into the third period. And yet, the Devils sharpened up on defense in the third period. They conceded only five shots and four chances in 5-on-5 play compared with 11 and 13 from the prior period. Kinkaid would be unbeaten for the rest of the night. The Devils put the pressure on, got the fourth goal from Hall, and held to a shootout where they succeeded to end the losing streak.
The calls were not in New Jersey’s favor. Not that the Devils’ power play would have accomplished anything. Truth be told, John Moore scored from distance to make it 2-3 at the time seconds after a power play ended. But the Devils did themselves no favors on four of the six calls they took tonight. Only Miles Wood’s hook on Travis Konecny from behind on a 2-on-1 was a somewhat defensible one. The others were bad. But New Jersey had a reason to have a beef with the officiating. The too many men call in the first period seemingly happened while the Flyers also had too many. Late in the second period, Travis Zajac (who took the costly cross-checking penalty that led to Giroux’s PPG) was felled and slightly bloodied by a high stick. The replay clearly showed it was Jakub Voracek’s. Refs called nothing, assessing that a Devils stick hit him in the face. If that wasn’t enough, early in the third, Nick Lappin stripped Shayne Gostisbehere of the puck. He was immediately whistled for a high-stick - even though the stick went nowhere near Gostisbehere’s face. The refs called it because Gostisbehere is Philly Tough and threw his head back like “The Actor” Daniel Carcillo and the “Honorless Captain” Mike Richards would appreciate. But the Devils killed the other five situations, didn’t give up another PPG, and kept working to get the equalizer and win in a shootout to end the losing streak.
The Flyers’ top players played like, well, top players. The line of Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, and Claude Giroux were very threatening. Couturier didn’t score but came close at least three times. Giroux did score at an angle on the Flyers’ fourth power play of the night; he also created Konecny’s breakaway goal that opened the game. Speaking of, Konecny got a goal The trio combined for eight of Philadelphia’s 35 shots on net. From a CF% perspective, 5-on-5 play was definitely in Philly’s favor when Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, and Nolan Patrick were on the ice. Voracek was a particular threat with five shots on net and setting up Giroux’s PPG. As for defense, Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov were strong in both ends for 25 minutes. But Taylor Hall against Giroux was a big win for the Devils; Provorov’s turnover led to the big give-and-go for Hischier’s goal; Voracek, Simmonds, and Patrick were kept to nothing on the scoresheet at 5-on-5 play; and Konecny and Voracek were denied in the shootout that the Devils won to end their losing streak.
Keith Kinkaid’s night looked bleak. He was beaten early in the game - again. He was beaten three more times in the second period - again. Sure, some of those weren’t his fault. Like Radko Gudas’ slapshot from the point hitting off Blake Coleman to deflect in. And like Scott Laughton being right on his door step and getting the puck for a free shot since Ben Lovejoy defended the pass and lost that decision. He was under duress (13 shots, 23 attempts, 14 chances in all situations) in the second period and it was a kind of marvel that the Flyers didn’t end the second period with five or more goals. He wasn’t getting a lot of help. But Kinkaid honestly came through. He denied Konecny on that 2-on-1 late in the game. His three saves in overtime were all important ones. Kinkaid looked cool as a frozen cucumber in the shootout. He was pumped after denying Voracek as were all Devils fans as the save meant the Devils won the shootout that ended their losing streak.
What would have been worse than fifth straight loss? Losing Taylor Hall again. After Hall scored to make the game 1-1, Radko Gudas “helped” Hall fly into the boards off-balance. It wasn’t so much a dirty play as it was just an awkward one. As the refs realized that, yes, the puck did get through Michel Neuvirth’s underarm at the right post and in to the net, the New Jersey trainer went right to Hall. Hall got up on his own and went to the locker room. He was held out for the rest of the second period. He went through the concussion protocol, as per Andrew Gross after the game on Twitter. Hall would return in the third period and played like a man with a mission. Granted, he’s been playing like one in most of these losing efforts. But tonight, the fifth of his seven total shots tonight was the big one. He was in the right spot at the right time to pound in Nico Hischier’s rebound to make it 4-4. Hall was amazingly close to getting the hat trick after that goal and early in overtime. Hall finished the night with being on ice for 19 attempts for and only 5 against the Devils; Hall finished the night with seven shots on net out of eleven attempts; Hall finished the night with two goals, the first for New Jersey and the last in regulation. Hall was a hero for the Devils tonight as much as Kinkaid was late in this one. And the Devils won a shootout to end the losing streak.
It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t ideal. It wasn’t totally well played. There were stretches where it was clear that Philly was likely going to win. The Devils found ways to make that not happen for a change in 2018. And so the Devils left the city of Philadelphia with an important win. That’s the important thing and so I really like how this turned out.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
Ghosting Like He’s On the Union: Amanda Stein, like most anyone with eyes, noted that Lappin’s stick hit Gostisbehere in the shoulder. John Smith, @habscorner, responded with this .GIF as evidence:
Young Ones Returning at Forward: Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier were great tonight. They both combined for a crucial and wonderful-looking goal right after Giroux’s PPG. Let’s look at it again!
Delightful! Hischier’s try led to Hall’s equalizer late in the game. Bratt had four shots on net and Hischier had three as well. These two were positive in the run of play, meaning that when they were on the ice, the Devils tended to attack. That’s what you want from your wingers.
Curiously, Bratt only played more minutes in 5-on-5 play with Pavel Zacha than he did with Hischier and Hall. Perhaps this night will lead to a return of this trio? I don’t know, Kyle Palmieri was pretty good with Hall tonight too. We’ll see.
Returning Moore: John Moore returned to the lineup tonight, replacing Mirco Mueller on defense. Moore often lined up with Damon Severson. That pairing wasn’t exactly hot. They were out-attempted 9-12 and out-shot 4-8. At least the chances were even at 4-4, but that doesn’t scream out “Great defending!” Or even “Average defending!” I will say this: the pairing didn’t take a penalty and Moore’s one shot in the game ended up in the back of the net. A long shot that I initially thought Lappin tipped in, but it did get through traffic and into the net. For that, he was a positive contributor tonight.
Other Defensive Changes: The Devils switched up the other pairings too. Andy Greene was re-united with Sami Vatanen. This pairing was high-event in that they had to deal with a lot from Philadelphia, but they were also present for a lot of offense generated by New Jersey. Call it a wash. Ben Lovejoy re-united with Will Butcher. This did not go so well. They looked real bad on Laughton’s goal. Plus, Lovejoy hit Giroux’s shot with his stick which may have helped it go under Kinkaid’s pad. Butcher wasn’t really getting much done in his own end and, once again, didn’t help out much on the power play. It was a poor night for the third pairing as they were the worst in shot differential among the three pairings. Call it a bad night for them.
Words on Special Teams (Still, Fire Geoff Ward): With an abbreviated power play, it isn’t surprising the Devils only generated three shots out of three advantages. The entries were just a mess and little could be created. They also gave up three shorthanded shots because, yeah, the power play is still bad.
I will give some love to the penalty kill. While they conceded one goal, they did hold a rolling Philadelphia offense to only four shots out of five situations. Given how Philadelphia stormed the Devils, that they were held to just four shots and 12 attempts in 7 minutes is pretty good. Their kill late in the third period was great. I also appreciate three shorthanded shots from the Devils’ killers. It wasn’t perfect since, yeah, they gave up a goal; but they did quell what could have been some really damaging situations by the Flyers’ power play.
Banged Up: That Hall returned was relieving. I would expect he’s fine. Miles Wood crashed into the corner after a failed breakaway attempt in the third period that was coincidentally also defended by Gudas. He got up and would continue to play. Jimmy Hayes went down hard in the first period and hobbled to the bench. Hayes would return and play 7:42 tonight. He shouldn’t be on the power play, but it was in the second period when Hall was out. Actually, no, he shouldn’t have been on the power play for a minute. I’d keep an eye on him too.
The Other Other Hero of the Night: Drew Stafford. In 10:19 of ice time, he had no shots on net and no shooting attempts. He finished last on the team in CF% tonight at about 28% with four attempts for and ten against. That meant when #18 was on the ice, the Devils were in their own end. Yet, Stafford went second in the shootout and totally redeemed his night when he beat Neuvirth. His goal was enough for the Devils to win the shootout. And should be enough to keep him in the lineup for the time being.
Around the Division: While the Devils won, they did not get any help outside of New York. The Capitals picked up a point in a OT loss against Winnipeg. No, Washington isn’t in striking distance but still. Pittsburgh beat down on Ottawa, 6-3, for another two points. New Jersey’s next opponent, Carolina, wrecked Los Angeles, 7-3. Columbus decisively beat the Isles, 4-1. So while the Devils got two big points, they’re still behind Philadelphia by two points since the Flyers got a point tonight. And they’re still just ahead of Carolina and Columbus. The only Metropolitan teams to lose in regulation were the aforementioned Islanders and Our Hated Rivals. It was more important tonight that the Devils got a win by any means to end their losing streak. However, they remain where they started: barely holding onto fourth place and not quite right behind third and second (games in hand would do it - assuming New Jersey wins them).
Maybe the Team Should Sell These: As Devils Insiders (@DevilsInsiders) captured from the post-game broadcast, the players are all wearing “New Jersey Devils vs. Everybody” t-shirts.
I’d wear one. What about you?
One Last Thought: I’m not opposed to using the C-word here: Clutch.
Your Take: The Devils finally won for the first time since February 3. They came back and beat a rival too. The celebration can’t take too long. The next game is Thursday and it’s also within the division. Still, what did you like the most about this game? Who was the most heroic for the Devils: Hall, Kinkaid, or someone else (dare you suggest Stafford)? Who do you think did not play well at all tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.
Thanks to Ryan for the game preview. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter through @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.