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Game Preview #11: New Jersey Devils vs. Philadelphia Flyers

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After blowing yet another lead, the Devils finish their home stand against the Flyers

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at New Jersey Devils
The undersized winger matchup.
Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (2-5-3) versus the Philadelphia Flyers (5-5-1). SBN Blog: Broad Street Hockey

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

What is Goaltending?: Neither of the Devils or Flyers have been particularly bad at even strength this year. While the Devils’ woes have been well documented on this site, the Flyers’ problem may therefore be flying under the radar around here. Franchise savior Carter Hart has started six games this year and appeared in seven total, and has given up 18 goals on just 132 shots for a shockingly bad .864 save percentage. Brian Elliott, who has started five and played seven games, has a much better (but still not good) .904 save percentage (17 goals on 177 shots). While Brian Elliot has not posted a number so low since his terrible 2010-11 season, where he had a .893 save percentage in 55 games, Carter Hart has never been this bad in his career.

Hart’s worst mark in recent memory is his .902 save percentage in his first partial AHL season of 18 games last year, before he became the Flyers’ franchise savior. His time in the WHL was very good to him, as he posted percentages ranging from .915 to .947 in full-regular season play. For the last time Carter Hart has been this bad, according to Elite Prospects - you would have to look at his 2011-12 season, when Hart was 13 years old and playing in Bantam hockey in Fort Saskatchewan. There, he had an .887 save percentage and 4.20 goals against average. Struggling for extended periods of time would be uncharted territory for Carter Hart at this level.

But the Flyers need Hart to be great. Brian Elliott is not going to suddenly play like a Vezina-contending goaltender again, like he did for half-seasons in St. Louis for some very good teams, with very good defenses. Brian Elliott is 34 years old now, and not very good - he’s in the twilight of a patchy career. On the flip side...

Cory Schneider is 33 years old, and over halfway to 34. He gave up seven goals for a .696 save percentage on Wednesday, after giving up six goals on the 14th of October. On the season, he is 0-3-1 in five starts with a .847 save percentage and 4.71 goals against average. As bad as his 0-7-2 beginning to last season in 12 games played was, he never allowed more than five goals in a game last season.

MacKenzie Blackwood has a 2-2-2 record and one shutout in five starts and six decisions (2-2-1 in starts). He has an .871 save percentage. In both games where Blackwood posted a save percentage over .900, the Devils have won. Of Blackwood’s losses, his highest save percentage was .864, in the overtime loss to Edmonton. Given Schneider played last, I expect Blackwood to play tonight.

The Flyers’ Last Game: The Flyers last played on Tuesday, when Brian Elliott gave up six goals on 28 shots, and Carter Hart gave up one goal in a period of relief against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Considering Elliott took the beating, I expect Carter Hart to be in net for the Flyers tonight. They were very badly out-shot by the Penguins 16-5 in the first period, where the Flyers gave up four goals, and were unable to out-attempt the Penguins in any period of the game, only putting up 20 shots at even strength.

When the Flyers Last Played the Devils: The Devils did not allow many shots at even strength, either. They allowed 24 shots - albeit many on scoring chances as the Flyers doubled the Devils’ expected goals. The Flyers had 10 shots on special teams, to just three for the Devils. This was the game Pavel Zacha was scratched so Miles Wood, Kevin Rooney, and John Hayden could all play together, putting up a grand total of two shots on net in eight minutes.

That was also when Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier played with Nikita Gusev, where they had an xG differential of 1.28-0.08 (5.97 xGF%). For more on that game, you can read John’s recap of it. But for tonight, the lines are different, and the Devils now have three mostly functioning lines, rather than a totally broken first line and questionable secondary lines.

Fourth Line Woes: The fourth line has been much debated amongst Devils fans this season. I would imagine Flyers fans are similarly displeased, as Chris Stewart and Mikhail Vorobyev have been among the worst players in hockey to start this season. In seven and five games, respectively, their Corsi for percentages have been 28.9 and 29.5. If the Devils want to make the Flyers pay for their current lack of forward depth, they should be getting skilled players ice time against bottom six competition. This is a perfect game for all of Jesper Boqvist, Jesper Bratt, and Nikita Gusev to play. With Wayne Simmonds and Blake Coleman in the lineup, I think the Devils will have plenty of chances to get back under the Flyers’ skins - regardless of whether Wood, Rooney, and Hayden play. Therefore, if John Hynes so chooses, I see no reason to not play a Boqvist-Rooney-Gusev line. The Flyers are not an even strength powerhouse, and the Devils don’t need to waste a line dedicated to slowing down a team that is looking to be stingy on both ends. The Zajac line ought to handle the defensive responsibilities, so John Hynes should make use of his fourth line group by having them create shots and opportunities, given the complete lack of them last time they played the Flyers.

What the Flyers Are Doing About It:

Samuel Morin, first round (11th overall) pick of the Flyers in 2013, has only played nine games in the NHL since the 2016-17 season. While he had seven points in 15 AHL games in 2017-18, after scoring 19 and 16 points in his full 2015-16 and 2016-17 AHL seasons, he hasn’t been able to stick in the NHL despite his frame (6’6”, 202 pounds) and willingness to hit (25 hits in nine games at 13:45 of ice time per game). He likely would have played a significant number of NHL games by now if not for injury, and the Flyers should hope for a good return from his conditioning assignment.

Meanwhile, as the Devils keep playing those who do not contribute much in the way of scoring opportunities, the Flyers sent down Mikhail Vorobyev.

Philippe Myers, who is similar in stature to Morin as a 6’5”, 212 pound defenseman, had one goal and one assist in 21 games for the Flyers last season. He only played 15:22 per game, sporting a 49.0 corsi for percentage at a +4.8 relative rate, contributing 25 shots in mostly even strength play. Unlike other defensemen on the Flyers squad, Myers is not a proficient shot blocker. He had only eight blocks in his 21 games, while all other defensemen on the Flyers’ current squad had over a block per game last season. Myers is 22 years old, and was an undrafted signing that jumped from 12 points in his first two QMJHL seasons (106 games) to 80 points in his second two seasons (97 games). He also has 58 points in 109 AHL games, including four assists in six games this season.

Carsen Twarynski is a 6’2”, 198 pound left wing who was selected at 82 in the third round by the Flyers in 2016. He made the Flyers already this season and previously was sent down, having scored one goal in six games. He has projected as a bottom six grinder that plays hard on the boards and on both ends of the ice. He played more of a skill role in juniors, and I imagine he will have to transition to playing more down low against NHL goaltending, as he is not known to be an amazing skater.

German Rubtsov is the most shiny of the prospects the Flyers just called up. He is a 21 year old Russian center that was selected with the 22nd pick of the first round in 2016. In 14 AHL games with Lehigh last season, he had six goals and four assists in 14 games. This season, he has one goal and five assists in seven games. Rubtsov is an exceptional skater that plays a very competitive and disruptive two-way style. He was known for matching up against top lines in international juniors matches for that reason, so I will be interested to see if he gets any matchups against Jack Hughes tonight.

Will the Devils Do Anything?:

Personally, I am annoyed that Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt, arguably two of the best players on the ice against Tampa Bay, only played 15 minutes each. Pavel Zacha played 18 because of the penalty kill, but John Hynes needs to see how valuable giving his best center playing time would be for this time. It is a mistake to continue giving Jack Hughes 20 minutes a game when Taylor Hall is not playing up to his usual standard. They should be kept away from Sean Couturier’s line tonight, and would probably do better matching up against Kevin Hayes’ line.

Physically, Travis Zajac is probably the better matchup to Sean Couturier, and Nico Hischier the best to Claude Giroux. Kyle Palmieri hat-trick aside, the Devils need to play for better possession, and they can do that by not giving Jack Hughes a tough matchup when Taylor Hall is not his usual disruptive self. After having a credited takeaway per game in his last two seasons (112 in 109 games), Taylor Hall only has two in 10 games this season. With the Devils, Hall’s defensive impact reached previously high levels. Now, that pendulum has appeared to be moving back in the other direction early this season.

Claude Giroux, Master of the Faceoff Circle: Normally I wouldn’t make a big deal about as small a stat as faceoff win percentage, but Giroux has been above and beyond to start this season. He has won 121 and lost 58 draws this season - for a win percentage of 67.6. His previous high was 58.6 in 2017-18. That’s pretty remarkable.

Coat Drive: As mentioned by John in Wednesday night’s recap, the Devils are doing a coat drive tonight. If anyone attending brings at least two coats to the collection bins, they receive a voucher for two tickets to a game on a later date.

Your Thoughts: How do you think the game will go tonight? Do you think the Devils can win? How many more losses do you think can happen before a coach (or coaches) gets fired? If the Devils give up a lot of goals tonight, do you think they’ll more aggressively pursue a goalie? Do you think Jesper Boqvist might play tonight? Where should he and Nikita Gusev line up? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.