College football season is over but the bowl games aren’t just yet, as the Devils and Flyers will face off for last in the Metropolitan Division in the Toilet Bowl, Presented by Charmin. Depending on how the other games go Saturday, this could even be for last in the league (exciting!).
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (16-20-7) versus the Philadelphia Flyers (16-22-6, opposition blog: Broad Street Hockey)
The Venue: Prudential Center, Newark, NJ
The Time: 1:00pm, ET
The Broadcast: TV: MSG+, NHL Network (US out of market), Sportsnet (Canada), NBCS Philly | Radio: Radio.com, SiriusXM Channel 219 | Streaming: NHL.tv
The Last Devils Game: The Devils finished up getting their rears kicked in by the Maple Leafs this season with a 4-2 loss. The Leafs jumped out to a 3-0 lead against a disjointed defense with the help of two wide-open John Tavares goals. The Devils battled back in the second to make it 3-2 on goals by Coleman and Boyle, but ultimately fell short with a anemic 3-shot third period. The Leafs added an empty netter in the final minute to get to the final score of 4-2. The Leafs outscored the Devils 17-5 in three games this season. Add that to the 18-6 aggregate demolition by the Lightning over their three games and the Devils went 0-6 against the top two teams in the Atlantic this season, being outscored a total of 35-11. Not great.
The Last Flyers Game: The Second Rate Rivals closed their 2018 and opened their 2019 in extremely second-rate fashion, but they finally got themselves a W against the Dallas Stars, snapping an 8-game losing streak that stretched all the way back to the Christmas break. Merry Christmas indeed, Flyers fans. The Flyers were outshot heavily by their Texan counterparts, but their rookie goaltender stood on his head (sounds familiar) to make second period goals from Travis Konecny and James van Riemsdyk stand up for a 2-1 win. Nolan Patrick had a shot on goal, which apparently qualifies as a notable event in those parts these days (yikes).
The Last Devils-Flyers Game: Back in November when the Devils and Flyers both had big ideas of not being horrible this season, the Devils went into Wells Fargo Center for the teams’ second matchup of the season. It was a good game for the Devils, as they would end up shutting out the Flyers and Joey Anderson would open the scoring for them with his first career NHL goal. Keith Kinkaid looked to be getting back on track (about that...) with a 29-save shutout, his third of the season, and Kyle Palmieri and Blake Coleman added goals to pull away late. Feels like 20 years ago at this point. The recap here was understandably satisfied.
The Expectations: These are two rival teams who are each in the midst of deeply disappointing seasons, so if I were expecting anything from this game, it would be that it will be a chippy affair. I also wouldn’t expect the most dazzling display of hockey given where these two teams are in the standings. That’s not to say this can’t be an entertaining matchup, but each of these teams have pretty much played themselves out of meaningful contention down the stretch of this season, so this is mainly for pride at this point.
Big Shake-up in Philly: The Flyers have undergone major changes at the top since the last time these teams met two months ago. They have fired both their GM and coach in the intervening time between the last Devils-Flyers game and now. They didn’t do it in the typical fashion you might see where the team removes the GM and head coach in one fell swoop. It was much more Flyers-y. They removed GM Ron Hextall in November in a bit of a surprise move given that most expected coach Dave Hakstol to be the first to go. Hakstol would survive a few more weeks but ultimately be fired as well by new GM (and former assistant GM in New Jersey, albeit briefly) Chuck Fletcher. Scott Gordon would then be installed at head coach for the remainder of the season. It hasn’t gone particularly well, if the recent eight-game losing streak is any indication.
Rookie Showdown?: This game does have one potentially compelling storyline, but Mackenzie Blackwood’s injury status may prevent it from happening. The Devils and Flyers have each had major issues in goal this season. The Devils’ woes are well-documented in these parts, but the Flyers have had perhaps even bigger problems. This week, they picked up (one-time Devil) Mike McKenna on waivers and started him, making him the 7th goalie to appear for Philly in this half season. The Devils and Flyers have been 29th and 31st in save percentage this season but each has gotten a lifeline in the form of calling up a rookie goaltender.
For the Flyers, that goalie has been Carter Hart. Since being called up in mid-November, Hart has played to an above-average save percentage in net (.920), which in Philly qualifies you for godlike status. There is some potential for a matchup between Hart and the Devils own breakout rookie goalie, Mackenzie Blackwood, but while Blackwood may return from his short trip to IR today, the Devils have yet to announce a starter for this game. If he did return to the net, it would be a fun matchup between two rookies whose respective teams are hoping they can bail out of a bad goaltending situation.
UPDATE: Mac Blackwood is officially in today so we will be getting the official rookie goalie savior showdown. Marcus Johansson also returns after his long absence.
Disappointing Flyers: The Devils have had some disappointing individual performances this season, but the Flyers my have them beat in that category as well. It has been a frustrating season for a lot of different Flyers. Wayne Simmonds, a fan favorite in the past in Philly, has had a tough season with just 19 points in 44 games and could be headed for the trade block before the deadline. The young defensive core of Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Robert Hagg, and Travis Sanheim as been just okay this season, with offensive totals down in some cases and some struggles in their own end.
Perhaps most disappointing of those Flyers players to this point, though, has been a player Devils fans will be quite familiar with from the leadup to the 2017 Draft. Yes, it has not been such a good season for Nolan Patrick, who has not burst onto the scene like Flyers fans were probably hoping. With just 11 points in 37 games this season and under 15 minutes of ice time a night, things aren’t going super well for the second overall pick. [whispers extremely softly] I think the Devils may have made the right choice in 2017.
Giroux Rolling: If there is one Flyer the Devils do need to look out for today, its Claude Giroux. He has continued his momentum from last year’s campaign where he made a Hart Trophy push (who won that again?), putting up 48 points in 44 games, with 36 of those coming at even strength. Similar to New Jersey there’s a lot of disappointment to go around in Philly, but their top guy has seemingly been their top guy.
Last Thought: Beating the Flyers is always enjoyable because beating the Flyers is beating the Flyers. At the same time, though, I wouldn’t be so distraught with a loss, given how crucial this game could be to the tank battle about to be embarked on in the last three months of this season. After all, Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko would have a way of making a lot of losses feel better.