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Game Preview #3: The New Jersey Devils versus the Philadelphia Flyers

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The Devils will look to regroup after a couple tough losses and head into their third game of the regular season with a fresh lineup, a new game plan, and a lot of expectations.

NHL: Preseason-New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers Sarah Stier-USA TODAY Sports

The Match-up: The New Jersey Devils (0-1-1) vs the Philadelphia Flyers (1-0-0)

The Time: 7:30pm EST

The Broadcast: NBCS

Last Meeting: The Devils last took on the Flyers back on March 1st in what was a pretty fairly depressing 6-3 beat down of the Devils mostly-AHL line-up. James van Riemsdyk scored two goals less than two minutes apart for the Flyers in the first period. Damon Severson and Jesper Bratt combined to get two back and tie the game up in the second period, but Travis Konecny took the lead back with a spirit breaking odd bounce off the wall and misplay by Schneider with just 30 seconds to go before the second intermission. The Flyers came out guns blazing with their newfound lead and doubled their score with goals from Sean Couturier, Ivan Provorov and another by Konecny. Kevin Rooney slapped a Bandaid on the scoreboard for the bleeding Devils with a goal late in the third, but there was no comeback in the cards. Cory Schneider, who hadn’t yet returned to his old self, allowed 6 of 24 shots on goal. The only bright spot on the dismal evening was, as it was most of last season, the Devils penalty kill, which successfully killed off all of the Devils penalties (3 kills out of 5 penalties total, as Severson and Vatanen each picked up coincidentals with Konecny and Nolan Patrick respectively at points in the third period).

The Opposition: The Flyers lineup looks relatively similar to the lineup we saw back in March. They’ve added RW Kevin Hayes, who currently slots into the roster in place of 2017 second-overall draft pick Nolan Patrick. Patrick is out of the Flyers lineup indefinitely at this point after being diagnosed with migraines at the beginning of the season.

The Flyers Season Opener took place a long way from home, as they took part in the NHL Global Series and played against the Chicago Blackhawks in Prague on October 4th. The Flyers lost most of their preseason games but won against Chicago, out-shooting the Blackhawks 38 to 31. The Flyers power play was also good, producing 7 shot attempts and a goal on three Blackhawks penalties. Konecny scored twice, including the PPG, and was joined on the scoresheet by Oskar Lindblom and Michael Raffl.

Expected Lineups:

If the Flyers run the same lines they did against Chicago, we’ll see something like this:

Lindblom - Coururier - Konecny
Hayes - Giroux - Voracek
JVR - Laughton - Twarynski
Pitlick - Raffl - Bunnamon

Provorov - Sanheim
Braun - Niskanen
Gostisbehere - Hagg

Hart (Confirmed — per CapFriendly)
Elliot

The Devils practice lineup their last two off days has looked like this:

Hall - Hischier - Gusev
Bratt - Zajac - Palmieri
Coleman - Hughes - Simmonds
Wood - Rooney - Hayden

Vatanen - Subban
Greene - Severson
Butcher - Carrick

Schneider (Confirmed — per Hynes)
Blackwood

A Few Thoughts on Tonight:

Rooney did score in our last adventure against Philly, so that may be why we’re seeing him jump into the roster for this game over Zacha. Boqvist has been taking rotations in the top 6, but if that’s where they plan on using him I doubt we’ll see him in the lineup tonight. I thought he did relatively well considering the slaughterfest in Buffalo, but I don’t think he’s ready to replace any of those names on the top 6 just yet. Wood I basically expect to continue being Miles Wood, with all the pros and cons that come with his particular full speed ahead, crash and bang style, but fingers crossed for a few more pros tonight.

As the rest of the lineup goes, I have zero problems with these new matchups. I can’t wait to see what Gusev can do offensively alongside Hall, he already had some excellent chemistry with Hischier in the preseason, and both of them (Nico especially) have a good mind for defensive zone play as well that should help balance out Guzev as he learns. The second line is almost equally dangerous, with the slippery playmaker Bratt lined up with our best faceoff man and veteran center, plus our best triggerman in Palmieri. We’ve got a guy who can get the puck, a guy who can do things with the puck, and a guy who can shoot the puck, and there’s not much more you can ask from a single line. Down on the third line we’re seeing a Hughes sandwich with experienced power forward-style wingers Coleman and Simmonds. Both can offset his defensive lackings as he learns like Gusev, and can also help ‘clear the way’ as Coleman put it in this interview and give him someone to pass to and lean on a bit when needed in the offensive zone.

We’re seeing the third very different set of lines in as many games. Should that be concerning? As I see it, it really should not. We’re playing with two complete rookies, one guy who’s new to the NHL, one guy who missed almost the entire last season, and three guys who’ve never played on this team before, not to mention one guy who missed all of training camp. That’s about half our skaters the coaching staff has no idea how they’ll handle themselves or fit with the other half of the roster. Preseason is good but when your team doesn’t actually all play together until the last game or two, it doesn’t give you that chance to really see how they’ll fit, so changes will have to keep being made in the first few regular season games until we really find a setup that fits. Our defense absolutely needs the shuffling it’s gotten, and Hughes and Gusev both seem to need more defensively capable linemates than they’ve had lately. The veteran buffering of those two might not need to continue throughout the whole season, it might be just until the they both get the hang of how to handle themselves defensively in this league, which is good news for those of us who were hoping to see more of the Hughsev chemistry.

Not many changes to the special teams in the last couple days off. As far as we’re aware, the only change so far has been swapping Butcher in for Severson on PP2. The power play has looked pretty good, while the penalty kill has been uncharacteristically bad. Its not getting any help with Zacha out of the lineup, but hopefully it’s either been changed around or at least tightened up a bit

We’ve had some wonky starts in net so far, but I’m not ready to pull the alarm on that either. Blackwood’s save percentage was admittedly terrible but so was the entire team’s play in front of him in all four periods we’ve seen him in so far. Schneider’s cramp problem from the Winnipeg game has been addressed and appears to be a non-issue most of the time, so I’m not expecting that to continue to be a problem for him, and he was great in the first two periods he played.

All that goes to say, it’d be nice if we win this game, but I’m not going to call in and report a 5 alarm structure fire if we don’t. Hynes and Zajac both gave similar responses after the Buffalo game— from Hynes ‘we’re playing like we want an easy game’ and from Zajac ‘we’re relying on skill rather than team play’. Together, those two comments paint a pretty clear picture of the problem with the Devils so far: these guys don’t know each other yet, the lines don’t know each other yet, and half of them don’t know the system yet. Without that, they’re individual players trying to get by, and a few of those individual players are used to everything being easy for them (Hughes, Gusev, Boqvist). Some might even have come in from this off-season thinking things were going to be great and peachy, especially after the first two periods against Winnipeg, and weren’t ready for the rude awakening they’ve been hit with since then. The Tampa Bay Lightning have been having the same problems since last year’s playoffs, and their head coach Cooper has made comments nearly identical to Hynes’s. Painful and frustrating though these losses may be, our team has some more growing to do, and its not unreasonable for that to take some time. If you’d like some more reassurance: Toronto gave up a 4-1 lead and lost to Montreal in overtime, the Blue Jackets lost to the Penguins 7-2, and the Sharks are 0-4-0. The Devils were 4-0-0 at the start of last season. These games, while yes they contribute to the point total, mean next to nothing in terms of how the actual season will go. We’ve got at least another 80 games to worry about, and there’s still a lot of reasons, most of whom are sitting on that Devils bench, that I expect there will be some good ones.

Your Take: What do y’all think, are we going to the Stanley Cup? Are we tanking again? Do we need blood pressure medications? Back to tonight— Which of these new lines are you most excited to see? Tonight is the Flyers home opener so don’t forget there will be a ceremony before the game in case you either want to see it or miss it. Besides that, please leave all your thoughts and ideas in the comments below and as always, thanks for reading!