With most of the week wasted by going 0-3, the New Jersey Devils looked to salvage some pride by beating the rival Philadelphia Flyers. The good news for New Jersey is that both MacKenzie Blackwood and Marcus Johansson were cleared and inserted into the lineup, with Blackwood being pushed into the spotlight as the starter.
New Jersey would strike first off of a great cycling play involving Pavel Zacha, Drew Stafford and Damon Severson. Severson would come into the zone and support, but with the Devils rotating, he wound up down low on his off side; Zacha would find Stafford (covering Severson’s area) and Stafford would make a great pass over to Damon. An excellent one-timer by Severson went just over Carter Hart and under the crossbar to put the Devils up 1-0.
Jersey’s power play continues to look awful, as their first attempt came with just over nine minutes left in the first. The top unit couldn’t even get setup and exited halfway through on a puck leaving play. The second unit created some better pressure, but some of the usual issues (passes out of the zone, easy giveaways) persisted and the Devils couldn’t add to their lead. Their second PP would come a few minutes later due to a Robert Hagg trip; the first unit again generated little, but Marcus Johansson, Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri (who hadn’t changed) almost put a couple chances past Hart.
Both teams continued to pressure the opposing team in hopes of finding the next goal, but nothing much was getting past either goaltender. The first period would close with both teams having put 12 shots on goal, but only the Devils were able to get one into the net, leading 1-0 after one.
The second period saw both teams trade goals as well as penalties, with a goal and a pair of a pair of penalties per team. Nico Hischier would pick up his first point of the game when he intercepted a Flyers pass and converted a backhander on the breakaway. Philly would get a measure of revenge with just under five minutes remaining, as Jersey-born James van Riemsdyk potted a goal to halve the lead. Both teams continued to be inept on the PP, though the Devils certainly continued to make the case that their PP needs adjusting.
The Devils would regain a two goal lead in the third, as Miles Wood knocked in a rebound after crashing the net off of an initial shot by Blake Coleman. Nico Hischier got a stick on the puck as well, but it was Wood who gave the Devils back a larger buffer. The Flyers would control much of the play for period, as they were pushing to try and get closer; they would get a decent chance with about three minutes to go. Severson went off for hooking and Hart was pulled for the extra man. They would only manage one shot on goal and didn’t get closer; Sean Couturier would eventually score, but with only two seconds to go, it was more of a stat padder than anything else. The Devils would prevent the Flyers from getting back to back wins with a 3-2 afternoon victory.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Broad Street Hockey for their recap.
The Game Highlights: NHL.com’s recap video is yet to be posted, but head on over for their recap article.
Afternoon Advanced Stats: It was an afternoon of good individual play and bad individual play; Miles Wood (68% CF), Brian Boyle (60% CF), Mirco Mueller (58% CF), Will Butcher (57% CF), Sami Vatanen (56% CF), Jesper Bratt (53% CF), Pavel Zacha (52% CF) and Nico Hischier (51% CF) all doing their part to drive the team forward and contribute. Wood (1 G) and Hischier (1G, 1 A) were particularly good tonight.
Conversely, Blake Pietila (10% CF) got run over tonight and Brett Seney (13% CF) wasn’t much better. Defensively, Andy Greene (29% CF) had another bad game and at this point, it’s fair to wonder if it is because of playing all PK or he just can’t move the puck up the ice. Sadly, I think it’s the latter, as only nine of the 45 attempts against while he was on the ice were on the PK. Ben Lovejoy (34% CF) was not much better; maybe Steven Santini shouldn’t have been the player to sit.
The Importance of a Healthy Team: The New Jersey Devils have some promising players coming up through the pipeline, however none of them are going to make an impact this year. As such, the Devils have to rely on the players that they have to contribute, and when guys go down with injuries, that’s difficult to always do.
With Johansson and Blackwood back, the only injured players missing are Joey Anderson (who might best be served going back to Binghamton) and of course Taylor Hall. Hall’s return would get some other players some more advantageous match-ups, but it could also create some difficulties for opposing teams. Hall won’t necessarily rejoin Hischier and Kyle Palmieri, as they’ve been alright with Johansson. Perhaps Hall takes the spot currently occupied by Miles Wood with Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman. Maybe he joins Zacha and Bratt; the possibilities to give the team more depth when healthy could give the Devils a chance to make some noise post-All Star break.
Speaking of MacKenzie: Can we give Blackwood some more love? I know it’s only been nine games that he’s appeared in, but he seems to be a bigger stabilizing force than any other goalie currently on this roster. His stats are far and away better than Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid; ride the hot hand, ride the talented player, whatever you want to say, just keep MB29 in net.
A Final Thought: I think Bryce Salvador has a future as a coach in this league. Just watching the way he was able to break down plays prior to the game as well as how much of an understanding he has for team systems makes me believe he would improve a team’s defense; hint hint Mr. Shero...
Your Take: The Devils shake off a crummy week to snatch two points away from a divisional rival while getting great goaltending once again from a returning Blackwood. Please leave your comments below on the game, the team’s health or just to celebrate beating the Flyers.
Thank you to Chris and Mike for their game previews, to Mike for providing coverage on the @AAtJerseyBlog account, and everyone who commented in the gamethread. Thank you all as always for reading!